October 23, 2023
Staff Reporter

A groundbreaking study led by the Institute for Systems Biology (ISB) reveals that providing personalized lifestyle coaching alongside standard care can significantly slow cognitive decline in early-stage Alzheimer’s disease patients.

This research, named the Coaching for Cognition in Alzheimer’s (COCOA) trial, involved 55 participants and offers promising insights into dementia care and prevention.

The study’s early findings have already been published online, with the full report set to appear in the November issue of the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

A New Approach to Alzheimer’s Care

In the COCOA trial, researchers divided participants into two groups.

One group consisted of 24 individuals who received the standard care for early-stage Alzheimer’s disease. The other group comprised 31 participants who received standard care alongside personalized coaching through telephone interventions.

Lead researcher Dr. Jared Roach, an ISB Senior Research Scientist, summarized the study’s key findings, stating, “Over a two-year period, our trial showed that personalized lifestyle coaching in addition to standard care decreases the amount of cognitive decline in patients on the Alzheimer’s disease spectrum.

This is evidence that personalized coaching focused on diet, exercise, brain training, and other lifestyle factors should be part of the first line of dementia care and prevention.”

Improvements in Cognitive Function

The participants who received coaching intervention demonstrated significant improvements in their Memory Performance Index (MPI) scores, with an average increase of 2.1 points compared to those who received standard care alone. Moreover, they exhibited slower deterioration in their Functional Assessment Staging Test (FAST) scores. These results are particularly noteworthy because they surpass the benefits observed with any existing pharmaceutical interventions.

The personalized coaching provided recommendations related to diet, physical activity, cognitive training, sleep, and stress management. These recommendations were based on the MIND diet, U.S. public health guidelines for physical activity, BrainHQ for cognitive training, and expert guidance on sleep and stress management.

Building on Previous Research

The COCOA trial builds upon the findings of a well-known Finnish study known as FINGER (Finnish Geriatric Intervention Study to Prevent Cognitive Impairment and Disability).

FINGER demonstrated that a combination of exercise, diet, and cognitive training could prevent cognitive decline in older adults at risk for cognitive impairment.

The COCOA study expands upon these results by validating them in a U.S. population and applying them to individuals who are initially more impaired. It emphasizes the significance of personalized therapy in dementia care.

Dr. William Shankle, a neurodegenerative disorders expert and co-lead of the COCOA trial, highlighted the benefits of lifestyle interventions, stating,

“The lifestyle intervention results of the COCOA trial provide a treatment that is far more affordable, has no adverse effects, plus has an effect as big as and potentially larger than that reported with the most recent, FDA-approved treatments for Alzheimer’s disease.”

Future Directions

The researchers are now looking ahead to future studies aimed at combining personalized coaching with Alzheimer’s drugs like Lecanemab.

Dr. Roach explained, “A critical next step is to test if we can further reduce patients’ cognitive decline by pairing personalized, multimodal coaching with Alzheimer’s drugs currently on the market.”

In conclusion, the COCOA trial presents a promising approach to Alzheimer’s care and prevention.

By incorporating personalized lifestyle coaching alongside standard care, this study demonstrates significant benefits in terms of cognitive function preservation.

These findings offer hope to individuals living with Alzheimer’s disease and their families, suggesting a more accessible and effective way to manage this challenging condition.

If you care about Alzheimer’s disease, please read studies that bad lifestyle habits can cause Alzheimer’s disease, and this new drug may help treat Alzheimer’s disease.

For more information about brain health, please see recent studies about a new early sign of Alzheimer’s disease, and results showing this brain problem can increase risk of stroke for up to five years.