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Seeking volunteers to change the future

May 2012

It’s hard to forget the first time I saw a loving mother showing no sign of recognition as she was greeted by her daughter at a nursing home. An alert and active woman had been reduced to near-vegetative status by that pernicious condition Alzheimer’s disease.

The good news is that those who are at risk for Alzheimer’s can do something positive in the drive to prevent or delay its onset.

Healthy men and women over 60 with an immediate family member who has or had Alzheimer’s, memory loss or other symptoms related to the disease, are asked to volunteer for an important trial underway at the Douglas Mental Health University Institute.Dr. John Breitner, who was recruited to lead the new Centre for Studies on Prevention of Alzheimer’s, is coordinating this multi-year study.

Breitner is a psychiatry professor at McGill University and holds the Canada Research Chair in Prevention of Dementia. He has taught psychiatry at John Hopkins and Duke universities.

The trials will evaluate how well prevention treatments work in subjects who possess certain biomarkers believed to increase the risk of Alzheimer’s. They include biochemical changes in the brain and neuro-imaging measures that appear to track the development of the disease in its pre-symptomatic stages.

A total of 200 volunteers who are cognitively healthy and free of chronic illnesses are being recruited to evaluate the success of various prevention factors that have shown promise.

They include physical exercise and cognitive training activities, but also regular use of anti-inflammatory drugs (acetaminophen) and other “demonstrably safe” common medications.

Volunteers will participate in active trials for about three hours every two weeks over two years, and be observed over an additional three years.

It’s a serious commitment and the payoff is to advance understanding of a disease that affects an estimated half a million Canadians. Some subjects will be part of a control group to measure the so-called placebo effect of perceived or actual improvement when the subject decides a therapy makes him/her better and that belief makes it so.

Altruism, rather than personal benefit, is the reason most people take part in these trials, Breitner said. Of course, they will be among all at-risk Montrealers who stand to gain from discoveries that can lead to prevention or a cure.

The challenge is written in the statistics: The proportion of Quebecers 65 and over will rise from 14 per cent of the population in 2006 to 25.6 per cent in 2031. Statistially speaking, this can only mean more cases of Alzheimer’s.

To participate, call toll free, 1-855-888-4485.



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