Researchers testing triple intervention to combat dementia

Researchers at Lawson Health Research Institute are the first in the world conducting a clinical trial to test a triple intervention aimed at treating Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) and delaying the onset of dementia. The Mobility, Exercise and Cognition (MEC) team will be incorporating physical exercises, cognitive training and vitamin D supplementation to determine the best treatment for improving mobility and cognition.

“We have learned the brain processes involved in motor-control - for example how a person walks - and cognition - for example how that person solves a problem - share similar locations and networks in the brain,” explains Dr. Manuel Montero Odasso, Lawson Scientist and Geriatrician at St. Joseph’s Health Care London. “Problems with mobility are connected to lowering function in the mind, and so can be a good indicator of future progression into dementia.”

Dr. Montero Odasso is also an Associate Professor in the departments of Medicine and Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, Western University. 

Gait assessment looks at the way in which we move our whole body from one point to another, helping to analyze mobility and the brain processes involved. 

MCI is an intermediate stage between the expected cognitive decline of normal aging and the more serious decline of dementia. It can involve problems with memory, language, thinking and judgment. While many older individuals experience decline in both mobility and cognition, each are assessed and treated separately with no specific recommendations available for physicians.

The SYNERGIC Trial will combine physical exercises, cognitive training and vitamin D to test how these interventions work together to improve cognition in older adults at risk for dementia. The trial is targeting cognitive decline at the earliest stage, individuals with MCI, where interventions are more likely to have an effect and can be monitored.

Dr. Manuel Montero Odasso, Lawson Scientist and lead for the SYNERGIC Trial. 

Dr. Montero Odasso explains that both physical and cognitive exercises have shown promising effects for maintaining cognition, while vitamin D deficiency is associated with cognitive decline. A key feature of this trial is that participants will receive individualized and progressive training.

“By delaying declines in cognition, we can improve a person’s quality of life. This research will help to support a more comprehensive preventative treatment with clinical guidelines for physicians whose patients are at risk of developing dementia,” states Dr. Montero Odasso. “Even more, each one year delay of progression to dementia in older individuals at risk has the opportunity to save billions of dollars for the Canadian health care system.”

Individuals over 60 years old with mild cognitive impairment without dementia are eligible for this clinical trial. Those interested in participating are encouraged to contact Research Coordinator Alanna Black at 519.685.4292 ext. 42179.

Participants will be asked to complete a routine of exercises and cognitive training three times a week for six months, with one final assessment at 12 months. The main site for the study is Parkwood Institute with physical exercises taking place at the Labatt Health Sciences Building at Western University, in Dr. Kevin Shoemaker’s Laboratory for Brain and Heart Health.

This study has been funded by the Canadian Consortium on Neurodegenerative in Aging (CCNA) which represents Canada-wide research aimed at enhancing the quality of life and services for individuals diagnosed with a neurodegenerative disease. The MEC team in London, led by Dr. Montero Odasso, includes expert researchers in the field of mobility who aim to develop common assessments for the interaction of cognition and mobility for older people to aid as a diagnostic tool for detecting dementia. 

Members of the study’s research team, from left to right: Korbin Blue, Research Assistant (Co-op Student); Yanina Sarquis-Adamson, Lab Research Assistant; Frederico Faria, Post-Doctoral Fellow; Dr. Montero Odasso, Director, Gait and Brain Lab; research participant; Alanna Black, Lab Research Coordinator; Stephanie Cullen, Research Assistant (Undergraduate Student); and, Navena Lingum, Research Assistant (Master Student).