Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center is the recipient of a $28 million grant for studying whether lifestyle choices can help older adults stay mentally sharp.

The grant comes from the Alzheimer’s Association. It is part of a $35 million national project known as U.S. Pointer.

It’s estimated that 5.7 million Americans of all ages are living with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.

“An urgent need exists to find effective approaches for Alzheimer’s that can arrest or reverse the disease at its earliest stages,” said Laura Baker, a principal investigator for the study and an associate professor of gerontology and geriatric medicine at Wake Forest School of Medicine.

“Lifestyle interventions focused on combining healthy diet, physical activity, and social and intellectual challenges represent a promising therapeutic strategy to protect brain health,” Baker said.

The two-year clinical trial is based on a similar two-year study conducted in Finland.

The goal is enrolling 2,000 volunteers between ages 60 and 79 at five U.S. sites, including at Wake Forest Baptist, which is the only site currently accepting participants.

For more information, call 833-361-7591 or go to https://alz.org/us-pointer/overview.asp.

The project will compare the effects of two lifestyle interventions on brain health in older adults who may be at risk for memory loss in the future.

Participants in one group will design a lifestyle program that best fits their own needs and schedules, Wake Forest Baptist said.

Participants in the other group will follow a specific program that includes weekly healthy lifestyle activities.

Both groups will be encouraged to include more physical and cognitive activity and a healthier diet into their lives. They will receive regular monitoring of blood pressure and other health measurements.

“We must test all options to treat and prevent cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias,” said Maria Carrillo, the Alzheimer’s Association’s chief science officer.

Assisting with the Wake Forest Baptist efforts are Mark Espeland, a professor of public-health sciences at Wake Forest School of Medicine; Dr. Jeff Williamson, a professor of gerontology and geriatric medicine at Wake Forest Baptist; and Dr. Jo Cleveland, an associate professor of gerontology and geriatric medicine at Wake Forest Baptist.

In October 2016, Wake Forest Baptist received an $8.7 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to establish a new center for research into Alzheimer’s disease.

That grant will be dispersed over five years for the Alzheimer’s Disease Core Center. It is among 31 research centers financed by the National Institutes of Health.

The Wake Forest Baptist center serves the Southeast, which has the highest per capita rates of Alzheimer’s and other age-related cognitive disorders in the United States.

The new Alzheimer’s research center serves as a complement to the J. Paul Sticht Center for Healthy Aging and Alzheimer’s Prevention at Wake Forest School of Medicine.

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rcraver@wsjournal.com 336-727-7376 @rcraverWSJ

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