Presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference, one of the largest randomized prevention trials to date found that targeting the prevention or delay of Alzheimer’s disease is more beneficial than trying to treat those who already have the disease. Researchers who conducted the trial found that intervention involving exercise, diet and other behavioral changes improved the overall cognitive function of patients.
This is just one of the 25 trials that are underway, which are examining different preventive strategies in cognitively normal people and those who are a high risk for dementia. Some studies are focusing on lifestyle activities, while others are looking at medications.
“Forestalling the appearance of symptoms by five to 10 years would have a tremendous public health impact and essentially would allow people to live the rest of their lives without real symptoms,” says Laurie Ryan, chief of the Dementias of Aging branch at the National Institute on Aging.
Prevention efforts are receiving more attention since research has found that disease-related changes in the brain begin decades before memory problems become obvious. In addition, failure in trials has determined that treating symptoms once the disease has progressed does not work. However, these trials are challenging because they require a large amount of people for an extended period of time.
The current trial was conducted using 1,260 people ages 60 to 77. Some patients were assigned to an intervention group that received diet and exercise advice, cognitive training, social activities and control of physical risk factors like high blood pressure and cholesterol, while others were assigned to a control group. After two years, “the intervention group had significantly improved performance on different memory measures compared with the control group,” according to Miia Kivipelto, a professor of clinical geriatric epidemiology at Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, who presented the work. The participants in this study will continue to be followed for seven years.