July 31, 2018

Can We Each Take Steps to Reduce Alzheimer's Risk? Dr. Laura Baker

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Is there anything each of us can do to protect our cognitive function or even reduce our risk of Alzheimer’s? Just as we have found ways to reduce heart disease risk, scientists increasingly think there may be steps we can take to ward off Alzheimer’s.

Globally renowned researcher Dr. Laura Baker of the Wake Forest School of Medicine discusses the U.S. POINTER study, which she is leading and is enrolling participants now.

Click the "Play" button under the photo at left to hear the conversation, including details about criteria to enroll in the POINTER Study.

Just as we have found ways to reduce heart disease risk, researchers increasingly are finding evidence that there may be steps we can take to reduce our risk of Alzheimer’s—or at least delay its onset.

In this Alzheimer’s Talk, globally renowned researcher Dr. Laura Baker of the Wake Forest School of Medicine discussed the U.S. POINTER study, which she is leading and which is enrolling participants now. The study will test whether changing your lifestyle—through a combination of physical exercise, diet, and intellectual and social stimulation—can protect cognitive function in adults 60-79 years old who may be at increased risk of cognitive decline and dementia.

The POINTER study is part of a global collaboration that will build on similar studies in Finland (the FINGER study) and elsewhere and that will add other countries in the near future. “The number of countries wanting to test this approach is growing by the week,” said Dr. Baker.

The FINGER study tested exercise, a Nordic diet, cognitive challenge, and engagement in one’s community. After two years, these lifestyle changes made a positive difference in cognitive function, even though all study participants were at higher-than-average risk for Alzheimer’s.

“The idea behind FINGER, POINTER and similar studies is to test an approach other than drug treatments for Alzheimer’s and dementia,” said Dr. Baker. “Can we restore or bolster the health of the mind and the body so it’s more resilient and resistant to disease?”

She added, “We know that beta amyloid plays a role, but there are probably many paths to the development of Alzheimer’s and dementia. Heart health may be one of those. If we repair that, maybe we can stave off cognitive decline.”

Taking listener questions, Dr. Baker spoke about the following strategies for reducing Alzheimer’s risk:

  • Exercise: We don’t yet know what frequency and level of intensity is required to reduce your risk of dementia. If you exercise now, try increasing the intensity of what you do. No age is too old to start. (In a previous study, she notes, the most physically active group showed the strongest cognitive improvement.)
  • Diet: The research community collectively has been slow to studying the impact of diet on Alzheimer’s. Studies to date suggest that keto (low carb) and Mediterranean diets may be beneficial.
  • “Mental exercise”: We have seen mental challenge in animal studies produce a change in brain structure and greater resistance to aging processes at the cellular level. Keeping mentally challenged can mean crosswords, number puzzles, meeting a new person, going to a different park, reading a new book—there are many ways to challenge your mind.

“We must become healthier as a country and a culture—and realize that we can shape our health and our families’ health,” Dr. Baker. “Too often we all look for a pill to help or prevent solve health problems, and the medical community has been skeptical that people will change their lifestyles to adopt healthier behaviors. However, as a research topic, lifestyle interventions are gaining traction and seeing increased interest for further study, alone and in combination with drug therapy.”

Additional Resources

POINTER Study Overviews

https://alz.org/us-pointer/overview.asp

http://wwfingers.com/us-finger/

EXERT study – still enrolling participants: https://www.exertstudy.org/