Researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Pennsylvania State University have recently been awarded a grant by the National Institute of Health in order to continue studies on Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. It is a five-year, $12.2 million grant, and the size of this grant make sense when you consider how many people are affected by Alzheimer’s. There are currently over five million Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease. Because baby boomers are aging, that number is projected to double by 2040.
The research will be conducted by scientists at the Einstein Aging Study in collaboration with experts at Pennsylvania State University. In the study, senior citizens will be given smartphones on which they’ll be presented with questions testing their thinking ability. The researchers hope that the way participants answer these questions will measure the cognitive changes that precede the beginning of dementia.
According to Richard B. Lipton, M.D., a professor and vice chair of neurology at Einstein and Montefiore, the research will look at risk factors for cognitive decline that can be corrected, such as pain, stress, poor sleep and vascular disease. Lipton is also a co-principal investigator on the grant. He states that by finding a link between specific risk factors and cognitive decline in the study’s participants, the researchers aim to develop customized interventions that can prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s.
Martin J. Sliwinski, Ph.D., another co-principal investigator on the grants, stated that the subtle changes in the brain that occur before Alzheimer’s are not well understood and are difficult to track using the typical cognitive evaluations, which occur one time and in person. Sliwinski pointed out that Alzheimer’s disease is usually diagnosed after several years of cognitive decline.
Accurate data from the study will give insight into the disease’s natural progression and shed light on the way this varies between individuals. It will also help evaluate the effectiveness of existing treatments.
The participants will be 500 people over the age of 70 in the Bronx. They will be given customized smartphones which will ask them multiple times a day to record personal assessments on a number of measures. The participants will also play a number of short matching and memory games. The researchers will then be able to average multiple measurements in order to more accurately assess an individual cognitive status and individual sense of well-being. This will occur over a period of 14 days so that the researchers can track changes over time.
Sleep patterns and activity will also be measured by fitness trackers that participants will be required to wear. There will also be monitors to measure heart rate, and some participants will have MRIs taken of their brains to help researchers assess a number of cranial regions, including the hippocampus, the part of the brain associated with memory.
Since 1992, Dr. Lipton has been leading the Einstein Aging Study, focusing on normal aging, mild cognitive impairment, the aging brain, Alzheimer’s disease and other disorders that cause dementia. The study involves an interdisciplinary team of neurologists, neuropathologists, neuropsychologists, neurochemists, social workers and other professionals in the healthcare field.
Over three decades, the study has served at a resource for Alzheimer’s disease research both nationally and globally. Thanks to the new NIH funding, investigators will be able to expand their research by collaborating with experts at Penn State and using the new mobile phone-based approach. The grant could make a huge difference in the advancement of our understanding of preclinical states of dementia and Alzheimer’s.