Health & Medicine

Can adopting healthy lifestyle ward off Alzheimer’s? UC Davis gets $6 million to study it

The Alzheimer’s Association gave $6 million to the University of California, Davis, to fund its participation in a landmark study that will look at whether older adults can ward off deterioration in their memory and thinking by adopting particular lifestyle changes, the university announced Thursday.

Over the next 18 months, UC Davis will enroll 400 adults ages 60 to 79 to participate in the U.S. Study to Protect Brain Health through Lifestyle Intervention to Reduce Risk. It’s more commonly known as the U.S. POINTER study, and it’s based on a two-year study of at-risk elderly people in Finland that was called the FINGER study.

The Finnish researchers found that participants maintained or improved their cognitive function – reasoning, memory , attention, and language – by exercising, eating a healthy diet, taking on mentally challenging tasks and monitoring risk factors for heart disease.

“U.S. POINTER is the first large-scale effort to test whether multiple lifestyle changes can prevent cognitive decline,” said Rachel Whitmer, professor of public health sciences and principal investigator of the study. “We are thrilled to be the second site of this landmark trial.”

Sarah Farias, a professor of neurology and co-principal investigator for the UC Davis research, described the Finnish approach as more promising than any medications currently available for Alzheimer’s.

The Alzheimers Association funding was given to the UCD Alzheimer’s Disease Center and UCD Department of Public Health Sciences.

Studies have shown that roughly a third of Alzheimer’s disease cases around the world are linked to physical inactivity, obesity, hypertension, diabetes, smoking, depression and lack of education about risk factors. UCD research has indicated this may be even greater for Hispanic Americans.

The United States is home to 5.7 million people living with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Worldwide, 50 million people struggle with the disease, and this figure is expected to double every 20 years.

If you would like to see whether you’re eligible for the U.S. POINTER study, contact the study coordinator at UC Davis Health at 916-734-0121.

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Cathie Anderson covers health care for The Bee. Growing up, her blue-collar parents paid out of pocket for care. She joined The Bee in 2002, with roles including business columnist and features editor. She previously worked at papers including the Dallas Morning News, Detroit News and Austin American-Statesman.