Combating memory decline will be focus of $15 million study

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Researchers at two universities have launched a $15 million clinical trial to investigate whether mental decline in older adults can be slowed or halted through exercise and other health-related interventions.  

The trial, funded by the McKnight Brain Research Foundation and a grant from the National Institutes of Health, will explore how a technique called Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, along with physical exercise and health education, influence cognitive processes such as attention and memory in older adults.

“If we demonstrate that one, two or all three of these interventions work, it will be good news for older people who want to maintain and improve their cognitive abilities,” said Julie Wetherell, Ph.D., co-principal investigator and professor in University of California, San Diego, School of Medicine's Department of Psychiatry.

Washington University in St. Louis is the other university involved in the study.

Earlier research conducted by the researchers suggests reason for optimism. Two smaller studies looking at the effects of the stress reduction technique and health education found improvements in the participants' memory and thinking, with the stress reduction group showing greater gains.

The new clinical trial will add exercise to the mix and will place each participant into one of four groups. Three of the groups will test the interventions individually, and a fourth group will test a combination of exercise plus stress reduction. Researchers also will be monitoring blood glucose and cortisol levels because of their effects on the brain.

About 580 older adults will be recruited for the trial. They will not have existing diabetes, heart problems or dementia. Each participant's involvement will last 18 months. The study will run over the next five years.


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