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Researchers prescribe sports as if it were a drug in a study to determine if it can prevent Alzheimer's disease.
"We test whether sport is a drug for people with mild memory problems," said Laura Baker, Principal Investigator of the nationwide EXERT study and Deputy Director of the Alzheimer Disease Research Center at the Wake Forest School of Medicine.
The study, funded by the National Institute on Aging, could help determine whether exercise can protect people from the memory and thinking problems associated with Alzheimer's.
This exercise with the right intensity could protect the health of the brain as we get older, "says Baker.
However, much of this evidence comes from studies that were small, lasting only a few months, or based on estimates made by humans
The EXERT study is different: 300 people at high risk of Alzheimer's are randomly assigned to one of two groups for 18 months.
Half of the participants practice aerobics like they do on a treadmill Comparison of stretching and flexibility exercises.
The approach is very similar to that used by drug companies in the testing of new drugs, with the exception of this study where participants go to the local YMCA to take their medications.
To qualify for the study, participants must be between 65 and 89 years of age and not allowed to move regularly have mild cognitive impairment, a type of memory loss that often occurs before Alzheimer's.
"My memory is not what it should be," says 75-year-old Richard, who signed up for the study six months ago. "My pockets are always filled with notes, because that's what I do, I'm very bad with names."
We only use Richard's first name to protect his privacy and the integrity of the study, which does not allow investigators to know which participants have what form of Exercise received.
Richard became part of the EXERT study after his wife saw a flyer that arrived by mail.  "She's on the phone within a few minutes," he says. "And the next one, which I know to be interviewed, that they take blood from, that they're upgrading me for things, and I'm in the program."
So Richard did it in the last six months. I was in the Y four days a week. He takes his workouts seriously.
"The only thing I missed [is when] I had operated on," he says.
As part of the study, Richard and other participants are tested for memory and thinking. They also have tests to monitor brain blood flow, brain atrophy, and levels of toxic proteins associated with Alzheimer's California, San Diego, and director of the Alzheimer's Disease Cooperative Study, a consortium that oversees the EXERT trial.
"We will not only understand whether the intervention will help people to get a clinical result, but also what the scientific foundations look like," says Feldman.
And even if the study does not preserve memory, the participants benefit from it.
"You call for optimism, you bring hope, you touch collegiality, you" "Richard is not sure if his memory is better than at the beginning of the workout." But going to the gym has changed his life, he says.
"There's a donut stop across the street that I ignore every time I come out," he says. "Previously, I loved pretzels stuffed with peanut butter, [but I] had not had any for six months, and as a result, I lost 8 pounds."
It was difficult to find enough people like Richard.
"Finding people with memory problems who are willing to come to the Y four times a week and commit to an 18-month study participation is a major challenge," says Andrea LaCroix, professor and Chief of epidemiology at UCSD who has been working to gain more participants for EXERT.
Around 200 people have participated in the nationwide EXERT study so far. It takes 100 more.