New trial to test effect of preventative lifestyle interventions on dementia

A new study led by Associate Professor Yen Ying Lim at the Turner Institute will investigate the preventative potential of lifestyle interventions in slowing down cognitive decline associated with dementia, particularly Alzheimer’s disease. The BetterBrains Trial will be one of the first clinical trials in dementia to be delivered entirely online.

Associate Professor Yen Ying LimAccording to Associate Professor Yen Ying Lim, the study will seek to determine whether a personalised, lifestyle intervention program can improve brain health, and whether this program is more effective than general education in slowing decline in memory and thinking function over 24-months.

“Through the trial we will be testing subjective ratings of memory, health, mood and quality of life. We are also interested in exploring whether genetic factors have a role to play in people’s response to the intervention,” she said.

The launch of the trial follows the release of a new paper linking visual memory impairment in mid-life with having two copies of the APOE E4 gene, shedding light on the relationship between genetic risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease and early signs of cognitive decline.

Published in The Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, the paper uses data from the Healthy Brain Project and the Australian Imaging, Biomarkers and Lifestyle Study to show that a person's ability to remember visual information may decline as early as mid-life (50-60 years of age) in people who have two copies of the APOE E4 allele.

According to Associate Professor Lim, APOE E4 is the strongest genetic risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease. People can have either zero, one or two copies of the E4 allele. Carrying even one copy of the E4 allele increases a person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and has been shown to reduce the age at which Alzheimer’s dementia is diagnosed.

“It is important to be aware that while the E4 gene does increase a person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, it does not guarantee that a person will definitely develop it,” said Associate Professor Lim.

Unlike genetic risk, which currently cannot be modified, scientists have identified many modifiable risk factors for dementia, including poor sleep, depression, low cognitive/social engagement and poor heart health.

“These risk factors are changeable, which ignites the exciting possibility that we can intervene,” she said.

With over 7,000 participants, The Healthy Brain Project is one of the largest studies to investigate the complex relationship between genetic risk and cognitive function.

This is just one of a series of studies being conducted at the Turner Institute to better understand the factors that influence mid-life cognitive dysfunction that is related to Alzheimer’s disease.

As APOE E4 is just one of a multitude of risk factors linked to Alzheimer’s disease, the BetterBrains Trial will expand on the work of the Healthy Brain Project to test whether changing a person’s modifiable risk factors for dementia can help preserve their memory and thinking function over time. This will help to identify effective ways to slow the decline or improve the quality of life of those living with dementia.

For more information about the BetterBrains Trial, visit www.betterbrains.org.au

BetterBrains Trial Overview from BetterBrains on Vimeo.