When Dr. Dawn Aycock, an associate professor in the Byrdine F. Lewis College of Nursing and Health Professions, began her research about a decade ago, there was a rise in strokes among young adults—particularly young adult African Americans.
“What we’ve seen over the past few decades is an increase in hospitalizations for stroke in young adults—upwards of 30 to 40 percent,” she said.
Yet up to 80 percent of strokes can be prevented, with lifestyle changes such as regular physical activity, healthy diet and stopping smoking.
Dr. Aycock is working to find interventions that can help prevent young people from suffering strokes, especially among young adult African Americans.
Dr. Aycock developed a stroke risk assessment counseling intervention for young African Americans to see their true risk of stroke given their current health. She measures this based on seven factors: diet, exercise smoking habits, body mass index, blood pressure, glucose and cholesterol.
After gathering this information, Dr. Aycock uses the “Life’s Simple 7” (LS7) program through the American Heart Association to give participants a cardiovascular health score associated with stroke.
“Prior to the intervention, I ask the participants what they think their risk or chances are of having a stroke in the next 10 to 20 years,” she said. “I then compare where they think they are, to where they actually are based on the LS7 cardiovascular health score, and counsel them on ways they can lower their risk.”
In this program, participants not only get stroke risk information, but they then select one behavior that they would like to alter. Dr. Aycock said they can choose between diet, exercise, or smoking cessation.
“They receive a diary to keep track of their habits, what they did or didn’t do during a given day,” she said.
After tracking their habits over 8 weeks, participants return for a follow-up visit and Dr. Aycock reassesses the participant’s risk.
Participants showed an improvement in their behavioral risk factors, as well as an increase in motivation and competence to alter their behaviors.
Leading up to a successful career in research, Dr. Aycock began her career as a registered nurse working at Austin Diagnostic Medical Center in Texas on a medical-surgical floor. It was stressful at times and intense, but rewarding—and it allowed her to realize what she wanted to do moving forward after getting a job as a clinical research coordinator at Scirex Coorporation, (now Premier Research).
“That’s where I fell in love with research,” she said. “I knew it’s what I wanted to do.”
After relocating to Atlanta, Dr. Aycock worked as a research nurse with nurse scientist Dr. Patricia Clark at Emory University. They looked at family caregivers of stroke survivors in a National Institutes of Health funded study.
“That was a meaningful study for me as I had a grandmother pass away after a hemorrhagic stroke a few years prior and an uncle who was bedridden following a stroke not long after,” she said.
This study combined with her personal experiences and past responsibilities as a nurse catalyzed her own program of research.
Dr. Aycock new she wanted to obtain a PhD in nursing, but said she was unsure what to study specifically. A happenstance conversation helped her decide.
“During one of Dr. Clark’s studies, a common question we asked the family caregivers was who they were caring for,” she said.
Dr. Aycock spoke to an African American mother who dealt with the challenges of being a caregiver, and she was surprised to hear the mother was caring not only for her son in his 20’s who had experienced a stroke, but her husband as well who had a stroke 3 months before the son did.
Combined with her own family history, she knew she had to do something.
“It woke me up,” Dr. Aycock said. “I knew this is where my research was going to go.”
As of the time this article was written, Dr. Aycock said her most recent work has been focused on presenting her research. “This semester, I have been invited to speak about my research here at GSU, in the community, and at international nursing neuroscience and cardiovascular conferences.”
She was recently invited to speak at this month’s ‘Friends of the National Institute of Nursing Research NightinGala,’ as well as to be the GSU Fall PhD Hooding Ceremony speaker.
“Stroke can be devastating for families and I’m just grateful that Georgia State has given me a platform to increase awareness of stroke.”
—Braden Turner, Graduate Administrative Assistant, Office of the Provost
1. Aycock, D. M., Clark, P. C., Anderson, A., Sharma, D. (2019). Health perceptions, stroke risk and readiness for behavior change: Gender differences in young adult African Americans. Journal of Racial & Ethnic Health Disparities, 6(4), 821-829. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40615-019-00581-0