A team of professors at the University of South Florida (USF) has a new weapon to fight Alzheimer’s disease and dementia — a $44.3-million grant for the next five years to continue a study that has shown some positive results.
Jerri Edwards, Ph.D., a Professor in the Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Neurosciences at the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine, is heading up the school’s Preventing Alzheimer’s with Cognitive Training (aka “PACT”) study.
Dr. Edwards says the grant could help finally find a way to prevent Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, which are among the most expensive medical conditions to treat — along with heart disease, diabetes and cancer. These diseases also are becoming more and more common.
“Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia are an increasing public health crisis,” Dr. Edwards says. “One in every nine persons 65 and older have Alzheimer’s disease right now and the prevalence of the disease increases with age. It could be that as many as 33 percent of people 85-plus have dementia. We’re living longer so that means the prevalence of Alzheimer’s is increasing exponentially.”
Edwards and many of her colleagues have been investigating an intervention commonly known as brain training for the past decade. “It is the first intervention ever shown in a randomized clinical trial to reduce the risk of dementia,” she says. “So, we’re very excited.”
Brain training is basically using computerized programs to train the cognitive abilities of participants. The trial, called the Advanced Cognitive Training for Independent & Vital Elderly (ACTIVE), had more than 2,800 healthy older adults ages 65 and older participating.
The trial was essentially focused on the functional ability of older adults when it came to things like managing their finances, driving and going grocery shopping — essential tasks required to remain independent with age.
“Dementia essentially is diagnosed when you lose that functional ability,” Dr. Edwards says.
That study, after 10 years, showed that participants had a 29-48 percent lower incidence of dementia than people who received no training.
The PACT study will be expanded to across the U.S. at five different sites and will be enrolling 7,600 older adults.
“We really believe this intervention can reduce people’s chances — reduce their risks — of Alzheimer’s disease,” Edwards says. “It’s a very exciting opportunity to be a leader in the field here at USF and engaging our Tampa Bay community area.”
Dr. Edwards encourages anyone healthy and age 65 and older in Wesley Chapel and New Tampa to participate in the PACT study. She says that one of the goals of the study is to have a diverse sample. She also says that blacks are twice as likely as other adults to get Alzheimer’s, and Hispanics are 1.5 times as likely, yet both are typically less willing to participate in clinical studies.
Participants will be screened and tested during their first two visits — at a choice of the Cognitive Aging Lab on USF’s Tampa campus off E. Fletcher Ave., the St. Petersburg campus, as well as at locations in Lakeland and Winter Haven in Polk County — and will be asked to continue the brain training for three years at home.
“We really need people who are interested in joining the fight against Alzheimer’s disease,” Dr. Edwards says. “We need healthy, older adults 65-plus willing to do that. It’s low burden — we’re asking for a three-year commitment.”
If you want to volunteer for the PACT study, call (813) 974-6703, or visit PACTStudy.org.