PREVENTION Trial studies impact of lifestyle changes on Alzheimer’s risk

September 20, 2021 Providence Optimal Aging Team



In this article:

  • Alzheimer’s disease is the leading cause of disability in people older than 65.

  • The PREVENTION Trial from the Providence and the Pacific Brain Health Center looks at whether healthy lifestyle changes combined with brain exercises can help prevent Alzheimer’s disease.

  • “Know Dementia, Know Alzheimer’s” is the theme of National World Alzheimer’s Month this September.

Memory loss. Confusion. The inability to remember how to perform daily tasks like dressing or feeding yourself. If you’re in your senior years, chances are good you’ve considered the impact an Alzheimer’s diagnosis would have on your life and the lives of your loved ones. And those are the thoughts that can keep you up at night. Current treatment for Alzheimer’s disease tends to focus on treating the symptoms, not changing the disease itself. But what if you could help prevent Alzheimer’s disease by making healthy lifestyle choices? Researchers at Providence are looking into just that possibility.

PREVENTION against Alzheimer’s disease

Dementia is one of the most critical health concerns facing the nation today. Alzheimer's disease is the most common dementia-related disorder—accounting for more than 70% of all reported dementia cases, according to the Pacific Brain Health Center at the Pacific Neuroscience Institute. It is the leading cause of disability in people older than 65.

Clinicians and researchers at the Pacific Brain Health Center are working with experts at Providence and other healthcare-focused organizations to test whether lifestyle changes combined with brain exercises can help prevent Alzheimer’s disease. The innovative study is called the PREVENTION Trial, which stands for Precision Recommendations for Environmental Variables, Exercise, Nutrition and Training Interventions to Optimize Neurocognition. It is expected to conclude in May 2022.

Research like the PREVENTION Trial can help improve the care available to people with Alzheimer's as well as try to find ways to prevent it, according to David Merrill, MD, PhD. Dr. Merrill is the director of the Pacific Brain Health Center and lead physician in the PREVENTION Trial. He's spent several decades working with patients suffering from neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson’s disease. Over the years, Dr. Merrill has developed a holistic approach that combines his patients’ individual biological and genetic data with evidence-based treatment to reduce depression and improve brain function. The PREVENTION Trial is an extension of that practice.

“The past few decades of research have brought to light many holistic methods for tackling brain health and cognition,” says Dr. Merrill. “We used to believe that Alzheimer’s was a disease entirely of the brain. However, we now know that multiple systems contribute to the disease. Managing other risk factors like cardiovascular and diabetic health is tremendously beneficial in preventing Alzheimer’s disease and slowing its progress, which gives us new pathways towards slowing cognitive decline.”

A precision medicine approach

The PREVENTION Trial includes people age 50 and older in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Participants are divided into two randomly selected groups. Both groups receive extensive testing to collect information about each participant’s brain function, overall health and genetic makeup. The results are used to help develop personalized care plans designed to promote positive lifestyle changes with increased activity, improved eating habits and brain exercises. This is known as a precision medicine approach.

Participants in one group implement the care plan recommendations on their own. In the second group, participants receive health coaching, including dietary counseling, exercise training, brain exercises, and nutritional supplements. Both groups will be tested to determine if their brain health has improved during the 12-month trial.

Studies like the PREVENTION Trial can be life-changing for people with reduced brain function or Alzheimer’s disease, according to Dr. Merrill. It may also determine ways to prevent it by implementing healthy habits before the cognitive decline begins.

“The more we understand the many systems and risk factors that contribute to Alzheimer’s disease, the more we can also open doors for treatment,” he says. “Primary care physicians, public health organizations and patients know more now about the link between lifestyle, health, brain health and Alzheimer’s disease than they did ten years ago. These avenues of research have helped give patients more agency in improving cognition and preventing disease than ever before.”

Know Dementia, Know Alzheimer’s

September is World Alzheimer’s Month and September 21 is World Alzheimer’s Day. This year’s theme is Know Dementia, Know Alzheimer’s. Events and messaging focus on raising awareness to shine a light on the warning signs of dementia and challenge the stigma surrounding this pervasive disease.


Find a doctor

The geriatric specialists at Providence can help you get the most out of your senior years with advanced care focused on keeping both your mind and body functioning at their best. Find a Providence doctor using our provider directory. Through Providence Express Care Virtual, you can also access a full range of healthcare services.

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Related resources

Improving mental fitness with meditation as you age

Learn the facts about Alzheimer's Disease

Holistic approach to living well

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.


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