The Alzheimer's Association is preparing to launch a study to see if lifestyle changes in older Americans can stave off the development of dementia.
The study — called the US POINTER study — is based on a study done in Finland starting in 2014. That 2014 study was the FINGER study, also known as the Finnish Geriatric Intervention Study to Prevent Cognitive Impairment and Disability.
Alzheimer's Association chief science officer Maria Carrillo said Finnish researchers wanted to know what would happen if older people at risk for Alzheimer's made a series of lifestyle changes.
"When they combined nutrition, physical activity, cognitive stimulation through a computer program, and aggressive cardiovascular control, they found that over two years of doing this they reduced their cognitive decline by 30 percent,” Carrillo said. “Thirty percent!"
Carrillo, who spoke at the UT Health San Antonio South Texas Alzheimer's Conference in late February, said that is exciting, but the cultural and racial makeup of the United States is a bit different from that of Finland.
“We don’t all go to college. We don’t have socialized health care. We’re not all Caucasian. We don’t all eat fish,” Carrillo said.
So the US POINTER study is based on the FINGER study but with a few tweaks that will help American practitioners understand what impact lifestyle changes might have on this population.
"We're going to study 2,000 people with a study in the United States that's going to adapt to the American style of culture and living," Carrillo said.
Volunteers in US POINTER will be followed for two years. One group will engage in a specific lifestyle program similar to the one used in Finland. The other will be given healthy lifestyle advice and encouraged to design a program that fits their individual needs. Both groups will be evaluated for changes in cognition every six months. Researchers will also track their vascular and metabolic health, physical function, mood and quality of life.
Those who enroll in the study will be between ages 60 and 79. They will have been identified as at increased risk for cognitive decline, but they will not yet have shown any symptoms of decline.
Carrillo said testing interventions in this population before they start showing symptoms may give researchers guidance on how to best delay the onset of cognitive decline. If you can do that, Carrillo said, you can delay the onset of Alzheimer’s.
“We hope to be able to come up with a recipe that we can give people and say, ‘Do this, because it’s been shown to help you,’” Carrillo said.