Study Explores The Role of Lifestyle interventions in Fighting Alzheimer’s

Heather Snyder, Ph.D.

As America’s aging population increases, so too do concerns about the cognitive health of our nation’s seniors. Promoting and protecting the brain health of all Americans is a cornerstone of the Alzheimer’s Association’s mission. This year we are launching an ambitious research effort to better understand steps seniors can take to improve brain health and reduce their risk of cognitive decline.

The Alzheimer's Association U.S. Study to Protect Brain Health Through Lifestyle Intervention to Reduce Risk (U.S. POINTER) is a two-year clinical trial to evaluate whether lifestyle interventions that simultaneously target many risk factors protect cognitive function in older adults who are at increased risk for cognitive decline. U.S. POINTER is the first such study to be conducted in a large group of Americans across the United States.

U.S. POINTER is modeled after the groundbreaking FINGER study from Finland, which showed that lifestyle interventions, including diet, exercise, cognitive stimulation and management of heart health risk factors, can protect cognitive function in older adults who were at increased risk of cognitive decline.  

The need to understand whether these interventions can yield similar results here in this country is urgent. American society is aging rapidly. The population of adults aged 65 years and older is projected to grow from 53 million this year to 88 million by 2050. Aging, of course, is the most potent risk for cognitive decline, and the development of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. Unless progress is achieved, the number of Americans over the age of 65 with Alzheimer’s dementia will jump from 5.5 million to nearly 14 million.

While we cannot change the aging demographics of our country, we may be able to change how this population ages.

Toward this important goal, U.S. POINTER is currently recruiting over 2,000 volunteer older adults between the ages of 60 and 79 who are at increased risk for cognitive decline and dementia. This includes individuals who are largely sedentary with medical conditions that have been linked to an increased risk for dementia (e.g., hypertension, elevated blood sugar). Information about family history of a significant memory impairment or Alzheimer's, physical activity level, diet, and current cognitive health are also used to further identify eligible participants.

Volunteers will be randomly assigned to one of two lifestyle intervention groups focused on:

  • Physical Exercise
  • Nutrition
  • Intellectual and Social Stimulation
  • Self-monitoring of medical conditions

Local Alzheimer's Association offices will participate in intervention delivery. Partnerships are also being developed with community-based organizations to deliver the exercise, nutrition, social and health-coaching components of the intervention.

All participants will complete the lifestyle interventions for two years. The success of the interventions will be evaluated based on change in a global measure of cognitive function. Upon completion of U.S. POINTER, the Alzheimer's Association will work with all stakeholders, including health professionals, public health departments, and policymakers to promote successful interventions and increase adoption of these among our nation's seniors.

A clinical trial of this size, scope and importance cannot be tackled alone and the Alzheimer’s Association is pleased to be working with leading experts and institutions from across the country and the world. We view U.S. POINTER as a truly historic opportunity to advance our understanding of the role healthy lifestyle interventions may play in reducing cognitive decline. These interventions have shown success abroad – it’s time to find out if they can work here in the United States for Americans. 

Heather Snyder is senior director of medical and scientific operations at the Alzheimer’s Association.

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