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USF Enrolling Thousands In $44M Study On Delaying Onset Of Alzheimer's

An elderly man sits at a computer with headphones on doing Cognitive Brain Training.
Eric Younghans (PACT)
The University of South Florida is conducting a $44 million study on dementia and Alzheimer's disease.

Researchers are looking to enroll 7,600 people in the cognitive training study, including 3,000 in the greater Tampa Bay region.

Researchers at the University of South Florida are looking to enroll thousands of volunteers to take part in a computer-based study that could decrease their chances of getting Alzheimer’s disease.

The university received $44 million from the National Institutes of Health to continue its research into whether computer-based cognitive training can prevent and even improve dementia disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease.

The study is a culmination of 30 years of research on cognitive training to help adults maintain brain function, said Jerri Edwards, a professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences at the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine and the lead researcher on the study.

“This intervention is the only one to date to show in a randomized clinical trial to reduce the risk of dementia,” Edwards said. “I emphasis, kind of a landmark study in the United States, that will definitely advance the field.”

Rather than just informing researchers and medical professionals on how to diagnose and treat forms of dementia, Edwards said that this study has been instrumental in actually understanding how to prevent certain types of cognitive disorders, including Alzheimer’s.

Ten years after completing the training, older adults were better at everyday tasks like driving, had improved balance and mental quickness and were less likely to have dementia.

The research has revolutionized how scientists view cognitive disorders, Edwards said. Preliminary findings from past studies have challenged once-accepted beliefs, she said.

“I've been doing this work for almost 30 years, and I feel this changed a lot of the common kind of beliefs we once held, specifically that older adults couldn't improve their performance and that we couldn't prevent decline with age,” Edwards said.

The researchers are looking to enroll 7,600 people in Florida, Arizona, North Carolina and South Carolina. About 3,000 of the volunteers will come from the greater Tampa Bay region, Edwards said. Participants must be 65 and older and have no signs of dementia.

African Americans and Hispanic populations have been a particular focus of the study because they have a higher risk for dementia, Edwards said. The researchers are specifically recruiting volunteers from these populations to ensure a diverse study sample. They have hired Spanish speaking staff at each of their volunteer recruitment sites, including in the Tampa Bay area.

“We want to highly encourage African American and Hispanic older adults to participate in this study,” Edwards said. “We believe that they could benefit from this intervention, but we have to have them participate in the trial in order to show that.”

To enroll, visit the study's website or call 813-974-6703.

William Marlow is the WUSF/Health News Florida intern for the summer of 2021.
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