New study looks for New Brunswickers who are at risk for developing dementia

·3 min read
A new virtual program is designed to help people at risk of dementia improve their physical and cognitive health. Researchers hope it can delay the process of the disease in those who take part.  (Robert Kneschke/Shutterstock - image credit)
A new virtual program is designed to help people at risk of dementia improve their physical and cognitive health. Researchers hope it can delay the process of the disease in those who take part. (Robert Kneschke/Shutterstock - image credit)

Researchers who are looking at how physical and mental exercise can help slow Alzheimer's disease are on the hunt for New Brunswickers willing to take part in a new study.

Called Synergic@Home, the program is designed for people aged 60 to 90 who live at home and are at risk of developing dementia.

"You know, the evidence is lending itself more and more to the importance of exercise and cognitive exercises, we'll call it, for people who are at risk," Dr. Pam Jarrett, a Saint John-based geriatrician said in an interview.

"The work that we're doing here in New Brunswick is to increase that evidence base, so that we can say with certainty that this type of thing will be beneficial for people."

This study is a collaboration between the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton, Université de Moncton, Dalhousie Medicine New Brunswick, and the Horizon and Vitalité health networks.

It's part of a national effort with the Canadian Consortium for Neurodegeneration and Aging, a pan-Canadian group of researchers focusing on prevention, diagnosis and treatment of dementia.

Submitted/Jeremy Slayter
Submitted/Jeremy Slayter

Jarrett said the program is online, so it can be done from the subject's home on a computer or tablet. But it didn't start out that way.

"We had plans for all of this to happen at five different sites in English and in French across New Brunswick," Jarrett said, "But when March 2020 hit, we had to completely revamp the program so that it could all be done virtually."

In retrospect, the changes made to meet COVID-19 restrictions have worked in the reserchers' favour, she said.

"I think the program is a better program because of the virtual nature and the delivery, because we can reach every corner of the province."

Chris McGibbon is a professor in the faculty of kinesiology at UNB in Fredericton. He said the program is designed to tackle the risk factors of dementia that can be changed.

"Obviously, there are a few risk factors for dementia that we can't really control: genetics and age," McGibbon said. "The older we get, you know, just the more likely it is where we're going to have Alzheimer's dementia."

University of New Brunswick
University of New Brunswick

"The modifiable risk factors are things like hypertension, diabetes, smoking, physical inactivity, lack of sleep, poor nutrition."

Participants would have to be assessed for the program, and if accepted would take part in a 16-week intervention. Jarrett said that involves an hour to an hour-and-a-half virtual session, three times a week.

"There's one-on-one training with a certified kinesiologist, just to be able to make sure that the exercises are done safely and properly."

Then the researchers will check in with the participants after four months, and again at 10 months, to see how they are doing.

"So doing aerobic and resistance type exercise, you know, the same thing you might do if you go to a gym or to a special clinic," McGibbon said.

"And the other element to it is cognitive training. So keeping that brain sharp by solving puzzles and doing those types of activities."

Pilot program could grow if successful

"The evidence out there suggests that … to really get a benefit to reducing dementia risk, you know, interventions need to have both the physical and the cognitive elements."

This pilot project could become more widespread if the researchers get the right answers to some of their questions, Jarrett said.

"So is this something that older adults will engage with? Will they enjoy it? Is it safe? Does it make a difference?

"It's not going to cure dementia, but it may delay progression. It may delay people developing a diagnosis itself. So if we can delay the diagnosis for several years, that translates into a lot of extra good quality of life."

People aged 60 to 90, either English or French-speaking, can take part. They can register online at www.nbpalm.ca .

They can also call 506-453-5137 or email synergic@unb.ca

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting