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Researchers Examining Whether Comprehensive Lifestyle Changes Can Impact Progression of Alzheimer's Disease

Contact: Anasia Obioha | Email: anasia.obioha@cshs.org

Los Angeles - May 12, 2016 — Cedars-Sinai neuroscience researchers are studying whether extensive changes in lifestyle among patients with mild cognitive impairment can slow the progression of Alzheimer's disease.

The research comes amid a sharp rise in the number of people affected by Alzheimer's disease, the most common form of dementia. The disease affects more than 5 million Americans, and diagnoses are expected to triple by 2050, costing the healthcare system an estimated $1.2 trillion annually, according to the Alzheimer's Association.

"In this study, we hope to demonstrate that by combining healthy lifestyle choices during the early signs of aging, we can possibly slow or possibly prevent Alzheimer's disease in patients at risk," said Keith L.Black, MD, chair of the Cedars-Sinai Department of Neurosurgery and director of the Maxine Dunitz Neurosurgical Institute.

"There are recent studies that have shown that a healthy lifestyle — including diet, exercise, adequate sleep and mental activities — may preserve brain health and offer some protection from the disease," Black added.

The research is one critical component of the new Cedars-Sinai Alzheimer's Prevention Program, directed by a husband-wife medical team, Dean Sherzai, MD, PhD, and Ayesha Sherzai, MD.

Both neurologists know firsthand about the devastating effects of the disease in their families and are working with a team of researchers at Cedars-Sinai to find answers for preserving long-term brain health.

"The only chance of changing the course of this disease is by knowing more about it, being proactive and not letting fear paralyze you," Dean Sherzai said. "Basically, facing it head-on with a plan."

The lifestyle intervention study involves patients with a family history of dementia or those who have mild cognitive impairment, an intermediate stage between expected cognitive decline that accompanies normal aging and the more serious occurrence of dementia.

The 18-month clinical study, headed by Ayesha Sherzai, explores how comprehensive lifestyle changes may impact various biomarkers, believed to indicate a high risk of developing Alzheimer's disease.

"Education is a critical component of Alzheimer's," Ayesha Sherzai said. "We want to empower and give patients hope that they could possibly increase brain health with a healthy lifestyle."

Those enrolled in the clinical trial receive practical tools and personalized plans for themselves and their families, along with an initial assessment that includes the use of the first advanced retinal imaging scans that may detect the disease's hallmark plaque in brain tissue before it becomes symptomatic.

Sixty-seven-year-old Susan Campo enrolled in the Alzheimer's Prevention Program after she started forgetting everyday things such as driving directions, names and where she had parked her car. Her concerns stemmed from watching both her father and best friend succumb to dementia.

"I know what the disease is like, and I would certainly want to prevent it," said Campo, a retired science teacher in Pasadena. "If I knew it was coming, I would hope that I could delay it even if it were by only a year."

The Sherzais use their family histories with Alzheimer's disease to relate to patients like Campo and believe that a healthier body means a healthier brain — a mantra they live by and teach to their patients. The couple incorporate fitness into their daily routines at work and at home.

"It doesn't get any more painful than when a person you've known for 40 years turns to you one morning and asks, 'Who are you?'" Dean Sherzai said. "The good news, however, is that if the signs of Alzheimer's disease can be detected early enough, we may be able to take steps towards improving brain health."

Disclosure: The optical imaging technology was developed by Keith L. Black, MD, chair and professor of the Cedars-Sinai Department of Neurosurgery. Cedars-Sinai licensed the technology to NeuoroVision Imaging LLC, a company of which Black is chair, founder and equity holder. Cedars-Sinai has an equity interest in the company.

This video has more information about the retinal imaging device and Black's motivation for conceiving it.