Massive New Study May Point the Way Toward Power of Prevention
When it comes to Alzheimer’s research, some of the most promising research has come in the area of lifestyle intervention – exercise, diet, social interaction and “brain exercise.” Now, a $20 million research trial is kicking off to determine whether early intervention in these areas can support brain health and prevent decline in memory and thinking ability.
The U.S. Study to Protect Brain Health Through Lifestyle Intervention to Reduce Risk (U.S. POINTER) is based on the Finnish Geriatric Intervention Study to Prevent Cognitive Impairment and Disability (FINGER Study). In 2014, the FINGER study followed healthy older adults who were at increased risk for dementia. The study found two years of exercise, nutrition and self-monitoring of health risk factors (keeping blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, etc. under control) preserved memory and thinking ability.
“POINTER is really the evolution of FINGER,” says Laura Baker, PhD, Wake Forest School of Medicine and lead principal investigator on U.S. POINTER. “We have the unique opportunity to participate in a growing global consortium of similar research studies conducted not only in Finland and in the U.S., but also in places like the UK, China, India, Canada and Australia. The studies are similar in many ways that allow harmonization with the FINGER trial. But we’re also different in that the U.S. population likely includes much more diversity in culture, lifestyle practices, health status and healthcare utilization. Our goal is not just to replicate the FINGER results, but to take advantage of their lessons learned to further advance this important research focused on prevention of cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease.”
Large-Scale Means Large-Scale!
Another big difference is the scope of U.S. POINTER, which can well be described as a massive effort – recruiting 2,500 study participants (double that of FINGER) in five regions across the nation. This two-year clinical trial also looks at the impact of diet, exercise and management of other health issues as FINGER did, but adds social engagement and intellectual challenge. This is the first study to examine these combined interventions in a large-scale U.S.-based population.
U.S. POINTER will be identifying participants, 60-79 years old who have medical conditions that have been linked to an increased risk for dementia such as mild hypertension or high blood sugar. Right now, study sites have been established in northern California and North Carolina. Three additional sites have yet to be determined.
Community-based Component is Important for Future Programs
The lifestyle intervention programs will be administered in partnership with the local Alzheimer’s Association Chapters and other lifestyle experts in participating regions.
Says Dr. Baker, “FINGER showed a lot of promise that lifestyle changes can restore health to the body and protect the brain. We’re keenly interested in the results here in the United States and have deliberately designed a community-based program that, if successful, could serve as a model for the development of similar programs throughout the country.”
If you don’t live in an area where the POINTER study is taking place or if you’re not eligible for U.S. POINTER, there are hundreds of Alzheimer’s-related research studies that need your participation – whether you are a healthy individual or someone with a memory problem. Researchers need volunteers to consider stepping up and participating in studies, so we can end this disease. The first person cured of the disease will most certainly be a research participant.