Can you reduce Alzheimer’s risk by seeing a health coach? New cognitive study suggests it’s possible.

Can you reduce Alzheimer’s risk by seeing a health coach? New cognitive study suggests it’s possible.

Just as a fitness trainer can help you build physical strength, could a health and lifestyle coach help you reduce the chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease?

A recent study led by the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), suggested personalized coaching in health and lifestyle resulted in better cognitive scores, improved quality of life and reduced dementia risk.

Titled the Systematic Multi-Domain Alzheimer Risk Reduction Trial (SMARRT), the study was published in JAMA Internal Medicine on Nov. 27. 

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The data was collected from August 2018 to August 2022 and analyzed from October 2022 to September 2023.

A total of 172 older adults between 70 and 89 years of age who were already at high risk for dementia were placed in either a “personalized, multi-domain intervention group” or a control group that received no coaching.

A recent study led by the University of California, San Francisco, suggested personalized coaching in health and lifestyle resulted in better cognitive scores, improved quality of life and reduced dementia risk. (iStock)

The participants all exhibited at least two of eight risk factors for dementia, including sedentary lifestyle, poor sleep, uncontrolled hypertension, uncontrolled diabetes, current smoking status, depression, social isolation and use of prescription medications associated with a risk of cognitive decline.

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Before the study began, participants met with a health coach to choose the risk factors they wanted to improve. 

Over a two-year period, they met with their coach every few months to discuss their progress toward their goals.

Compared to the control group, the intervention group showed a 74% improvement in cognitive test scores at the end of the study period.

Nurse with older man

Over a two-year period, participants (not pictured) met with their coaches every few months to discuss progress toward their goals. (iStock)

They also experienced a 145% improvement in dementia risk factors and an 8% increase in quality of life, the study found.

“This is the first personalized intervention, focusing on multiple areas of cognition, in which risk factor targets are based on a participant’s risk profile, preferences and priorities, which we think may be more effective than a one-size-fits-all approach,” said first author and lead investigator Kristine Yaffe, M.D., vice chair of research in psychiatry at UCSF, in a press release from the university. 

“The more mentally demanding activities you engage in on a regular basis, the lower your risk of developing dementia or cognitive impairment as you age.”

“Not only did we find a significant reduction in risk factors, this is one of only a few trials that has shown a benefit in cognition that likely translates to lower dementia risk.”

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Dr. Suhail Rasool, director of the neurology research group at California pharmaceutical company TrueBinding, was not involved in the SMARRT study but shared his input on the potential benefits of cognitive coaching.

“The ‘use it or lose it’ theory underpins the concept of brain training,” he told Fox News Digital.

“According to a widely held belief, the more mentally demanding activities you engage in on a regular basis, the lower your risk of developing dementia or cognitive impairment as you age.”

Older woman with nurse

Those who had the intervention experienced a 145% improvement in dementia risk factors and an 8% increase in quality of life, the study found. (iStock)

The theory is based on the observation that some people seem to have lower rates of dementia when they work complex jobs or engage in activities like crossword puzzles, puzzles or taking up new hobbies, Rasool noted. 

“Brain training games on computers have been created to test mental skills like reasoning, memory and problem-solving, abilities that can deteriorate or slow down with age.”

Dr. Joseph Antoun, CEO and chairman of the board of L-Nutra Inc., a California nutri-technology company, was also not involved in the SMARRT study but shared his insights on the potential benefits of cognitive coaching.

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“Some studies have suggested that working regularly with a brain coach can aid in brain health and develop neuroplasticity, which is the ability of the brain to heal, grow new neurons and form synaptic connections in response to stimuli,” he told Fox News Digital. 

Stimulation through social interactions, learning a new hobby or even listening to music can also help aid brain repair.

“When coupling the stimulation received from a brain coach with other strategies, such as regular exercise, proper nutrition and quality sleep, the brain can start to repair itself.” 

Stimulation through social interactions, learning a new hobby or even listening to music can also help aid brain repair, Antoun added.

Physical therapy session

Before engaging in major lifestyle changes, such as exercise and diet, experts said it’s important to first check in with a doctor. (iStock)

“Treating the disease requires addressing many aspects of the body at one time, as you would when repairing holes in a roof, and the more holes you cover, the more success you have at fixing the problem,” he said.

Heather M. Snyder, PhD, vice president of medical and scientific relations for the Alzheimer’s Association in Chicago, Illinois, who was not involved in the SMARRT research, noted that lifestyle and behavioral interventions combining multiple components “show promise as a therapeutic strategy to protect brain health.”

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Snyder pointed to a previous study from 2015, the Finnish Geriatric Intervention Study to Prevent Cognitive Impairment and Disability (FINGER).

“The FINGER study reported that a combination of physical activity, nutritional guidance, cognitive training, social activities and management of heart-health risk factors protected cognition in healthy older adults with an increased risk of cognitive decline,” she told Fox News Digital. 

Elderly woman eating salad

A prior study found that a combination of good nutrition, exercise, cognitive training, social activities and heart-healthy behaviors protected cognition in healthy older adults who had increased dementia risk. (iStock)

“There is an urgent need to expand this work to test the generalizability, adaptability and sustainability of the FINGER study’s findings in geographically and culturally diverse populations worldwide.”

Fox News Digital reached out to the SMARRT study authors for further comment on the findings.

Potential limitations

Jessica Caldwell, PhD, director of the Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement Prevention Center at Cleveland Clinic in Las Vegas, pointed out some potential limitations of using health coaching to prevent Alzheimer’s.

She was not involved in the new research.

“Coaching would not be expected to last forever, but health changes must be made for the long term.”

“Coaching may not be possible for everyone at risk, as it could be expensive and we do not yet know how often or long coaching is needed,” Caldwell told Fox News Digital. 

“In any case, coaching would not be expected to last forever, but health changes must be made for the long term.”

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Caldwell also pointed out that before someone engages in major lifestyle changes, such as exercise and diet, it’s important to first check in with a doctor to be sure they are healthy enough for changes and to understand any possible risks. 

Alzheimer's awareness

“It is possible to live well with Alzheimer’s by taking control of your health and wellness and focusing your energy on the aspects of your life you find most meaningful,” said a representative from the Alzheimer’s Association. (iStock)

Although a full recovery is a “difficult thing to guarantee,” said Antoun, practices like health coaching are most effective when used as a preventative measure or in the very early stages of cognitive decline.  

In the future, study author Yaffe hopes that “treatment of Alzheimer’s and related dementias will be like cardiovascular disease management, with a combination of risk-reduction and specific drugs targeted for disease mechanisms.”

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Added Snyder of the Alzheimer’s Association, “It is possible to live well with Alzheimer’s by taking control of your health and wellness and focusing your energy on the aspects of your life you find most meaningful.”

For more Health articles, visit www.foxnews.com/health.

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