Miriam Hospital recruiting seniors for study on exercise, mindfulness training

July 5, 2016

Senior coupleThe Miriam Hospital is actively recruiting local participants for a unique behavioral study focusing on cognitive and aerobic training as a possible way to prevent cognitive decline or dementia. The combined intervention, known as the “Active Mind” study, features training in both mindfulness and aerobic exercise for adults over age 65 who are at risk for developing dementia. 

In 2014, 5.2 million Americans of all ages had Alzheimer’s disease. To date, only a few studies have assessed the effect of combined cognitive and aerobic training, and none have explored the cumulative effect on cognitive function in older, cognitively impaired adults. 

“There is currently no pharmacological treatment to improve the course of dementia or reduce the risk of dementia and age-related cognitive impairment,” said Elena Salmoirago-Blotcher, MD, PhD, a research scientist at The Miriam Hospital Centers for Behavioral and Preventive Medicine who leads the study. “Parallel to the development of new pharmacological approaches, increasing attention has been dedicated to the development of preventive and behavioral strategies, and there is strong observational evidence that both physical and cognitively stimulating activity may prevent cognitive decline or dementia.” 

Mindfulness training (MT) is based on meditation practices rooted in the Buddhist tradition of the southeastern regions of Asia. MT programs, including mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), have shown significant benefits for reducing anxiety, depression and a variety of physical symptoms across various medical conditions. In addition, both observational and experimental studies have shown that MT improves attention and working memory capacity. 

“There has been some interest in mindfulness as a possible tool to improve cognitive function – mostly attention span – but no one has studied this in older adults at risk for dementia,” Salmoirago-Blotcher added. “Aerobic exercise is also proven to be very helpful in preventing dementia, so we thought of combining the two activities to see whether they might provide additional benefit in this population.”

Providence-area participants will be randomized (i.e., assigned by chance) to either eight weeks of mindfulness training (one two-hour session once a week plus one all-day workshop); 12 weeks of aerobic exercise training (one 60-minute session three times a week); 12 weeks of mindfulness and aerobic exercise training (two aerobic training sessions plus one mindfulness training class every week); or “usual care” (continuation of care by their physicians). All participants will receive clearance to participate in the study from their primary care practitioner. Cognitive assessments – including executive function (verbal fluency), episodic memory, and working memory – will be completed at the beginning of the study and again at three and six months after enrollment.

The mindfulness classes will be held at the Coro Center at 1 Hoppin Street, Providence, and the aerobic classes will be held at the YMCA located at 438 Hope Street in Providence. The next cycle of classes will start during the first week of September. Participation in The Miriam Hospital Active Mind study is free and participants will be compensated for their time. Parking is free and transportation is available at no charge if needed.

“All cognitive impairments severely impact patients, family members, care givers and care providers alike – and the incidence of Alzheimer’s disease is only expected to increase in the years ahead,” said Peter Snyder, PhD, Lifespan’s chief research officer and senior vice president and the study’s co-principal investigator. “It is our hope that this new dual intervention can offer some relief to those negatively impacted by age-related cognitive impairment.” 

Study participants may be eligible if they:

  • Are 65 years old or older
  • Are physically inactive

For more information on the study, or to find out if you qualify, please contact The Centers for Behavioral and Preventive Medicine at 401-793-8184 or GentleRehab@lifespan.org.

Elena Salmoirago-Blotcher, also an assistant professor of Medicine and assistant professor of Epidemiology at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University and the School of Public Health, is the principal investigator for the study. Other researchers and collaborators included Peter Snyder, PhD, co-principal investigator, and Shira Dunsiger, PhD, biostatistician, Chris Breault, MA, data manager, and Julie Krol, MA, senior research assistant, all from The Miriam Hospital Centers for Behavioral and Preventive Medicine.   

Research reported in this press release is supported by the Norman Prince Neurosciences Institute.  

Elena Falcone-Relvas

Bradley Hospital & Hasbro Children's Hospital
401-444-6863
efalconerelvas@lifespan.org