Alzheimer’s Disease, the most common form of dementia, has no known cure. But what if something as simple as regular exercise could impact a person’s genetic risk for the disease?
That’s what UNCG researcher Dr. Jennifer Etnier wants to find out. Etnier, a kinesiology professor in UNCG’s School of Health and Human Sciences, has received a $275,000, two-year grant from the National Institutes of Health to study what preventive strategies may decrease the risk of dementia for a person who has a first-degree relative with Alzheimer’s disease. She’s currently recruiting local residents ages 50-65 with that genetic connection to participate in a free exercise program related to her research.
“Evidence from prospective studies with cognitively normal adults shows that physical activity is predictive of less cognitive decline over time and that physical activity decreases the relative risk of dementia,” Etnier explained.
“My research is focused on the cognitive benefits that people get from being physically active. I’ve done research with older people, children and college-age adults. Our research consistently shows that there are benefits to be gained from regularly participating in physical activity. I’ve published studies showing benefits for all age groups and we’ve done interventions where we ask people to become physically active and show that they benefit cognitively.”
Her current Alzheimer’s research is designed to find out if the cognitive benefits from becoming physically active differ depending upon a person’s genetic risk for Alzheimer’s disease. “There is past research which suggests that those people who have a genetic risk for Alzheimer’s disease may benefit from being physically active,” she said. “Obviously, if our study supports this finding, the idea is that people who know they’re at risk for Alzheimer’s disease because of a family history may want to seriously consider becoming physically active as a way to perhaps delay the onset of Alzheimer’s Disease.”
Etnier frequently discusses her findings related to cognitive ability and physical activity. This summer, she was invited to speak on physical activity and the prevention of dementia at the World Congress on Active Aging.
Etnier’s research also shows benefits, both short- and long-term, for other age groups. “We’ve shown that benefits from single sessions and from regular participation can be achieved by children with Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder,” Etnier said. “Thus, it is possible that physical activity may help ADHD children to be successful in academic settings.”
Interested in volunteering for Etnier’s research?
Qualifying participants will be invited to take part in a free, eight-month exercise program. Researchers are looking for volunteers who are 50-65 years old, have a first-degree relative with Alzheimer’s disease, are not regularly physically active and who plan to live in Greensboro for the next year. People who are clinically cognitively impaired or depressed, unable to exercise for health reasons or who have uncorrected visual or hearing impairments will not qualify for the study.
Volunteers will be screened by telephone followed by baseline testing on campus to determine eligibility. Those selected for the study are asked to participate in three testing sessions on campus and a free exercise program held three days a week for eight months. Participants will be reimbursed $10 for each on-campus testing session and regular attenders at exercise sessions will receive $10 a month.
For more information or to express interest, email PAADStudy@gmail.com, call (336) 334-3275 or visithttp://uncg.edu/kin/paad-study.