Twenty-Five Years Celebration.
The Women’s Healthy Aging Project (WHAP) is a longitudinal study of over 400 randomly sampled Australian-born women.
In 1990, hairdressing scissors in my hand I beat my two small boys to the telephone. A voice asked if I would be willing to take part in a study run by Melbourne University into health issues confronting women. The decision to participate resulted in twenty-five years of belonging to an ethically sound, well researched project which took me on a journey of self discovery and knowledge.
Once a year I fast overnight, catch the Frankston train to Melbourne and tram to Royal Melbourne Hospital. After handing in a completed questionnaire, blood tests taken and breakfast over I am weighed, measured and the oral and written tests begin. Depending on what is being studied that particular year follow up x-rays or tests are sometimes required. However, I always felt that it revealed up previously hidden health information and that I was part of something larger than myself.
Most of the previous studies into heart disease etc are based on men. This is my opportunity to do something to help other women and I applaud Melbourne University for instigating and supporting this study into women’s health. Age has a way of creeping up on us. I was amazed last time I was measured to discover I’ve lost an inch in height. That explains why the clothes line seems higher these days.
The 2nd June 2015 was the twenty-fifth anniversary of WHAP at the Mental Health Institute in Parkville. Associate Professor Cassandra Szoeke explained the health issues facing women in an easy to understand down-to-earth manner. Her lovely smile and obvious passion for research shone through as she told the room of volunteers about the project. I was amazed how it has grown. The data is now available worldwide to many PhD students from numerous countries studying a myriad of women’s health issues from diet, to cholesterol levels, mood swings, aging, the role of grand parenting in postmenopausal women’s cognitive health etc and they are finding this unique Australian study data invaluable. I believe it is now the longest running study of women’s health in the world.
During the twenty-five years I’ve also journeyed from VCE to PhD and was delighted to have the opportunity to talk to the current PhD students about their research and possible findings. What I learnt from them will be invaluable in the years to come.
Initially funding was granted for two years, then more was found and the project progressed on a general basis until the focus turned to menopausal women, HRT or no HRT. Then came post menopausal. Now WHAP studies in Australia aims to identify modifiable mid-life risk factors for the development of late-life cognitive decline, improve the understanding of dementia, and target early disease identification utilizing clinical, biomarker and health risk profiles.
These aims are fortified by the ability to leverage the considerable database on health, lifestyle and socio-demographics collected prospectively from 1990 to date. This is the first study with a comprehensive neuropsychological battery, over a decade of cognitive follow-up, with all participants being offered amyloid imaging from 2012, and prospective longitudinal data including clinical and physical measures and bio-bank samples from over 20 years prior.
I must admit that to have a pet scan to check for signs of amyloid, a protein that may result in Alzheimer’s disease, was scary. For the first time, I was hesitant about having this test, and could have refused if I so desired. However, on request I was immediately given all the details regarding the test, talked to my local doctor and decided to go ahead. I’m so glad I finally overcame my fear.
Being a WHAP volunteer has given me insights into women’s health issues and tools I can use to keep active and well as long as possible. That one phone call back in 1990 has led to an exciting journey. I will treasure the silver Melbourne University angel and certificate given to all the volunteers on this special anniversary of this study into women’s health, but honestly I feel I have gained far more than I have given.