CLEVELAND, Ohio — For most of her life, Gloria Simms didn’t exercise much.
“It’s always something you say you’re going to do and you don’t,” she said.
But now the 71-year-old rides a Peloton three times a week.
“And then you find out when you’re not doing it that you physically miss it and you need that energy push,” she said.
Her increase in high-intensity exercise is because of a Cleveland Clinic study she’s part of that aims to prevent Alzheimer’s. Stephen Rao, Ph.D. is the co-principal investigator.
“So, the whole goal of my project is not to really try to treat people that already have Alzheimer’s disease, but to try to slow down the progression because if we can delay the onset by just five years we can reduce the number of people with Alzheimer’s disease by one half and if we can delay it by ten years we can practically wipe the disease out,” said Rao.
Simms said she has no family history of Alzheimer’s. Her parents died in their 50s. But she is a carrier of the apolipoprotein E epsilon 4 (APOE ɛ4) allele, which is a known genetic risk factor for Alzheimer’s.
Rao said about 20% of the population has this genetic risk factor, but not everyone with this gene will get the disease.
“I believe that knowing that sort of helps me too because that also motivates me to exercise, read more. Do a lot of other different challenging things to keep my mind going and regulated,” said Simms.
The five-year study called CYCLE-AD is about halfway complete. So far, 75 of the needed 150 participants have enrolled. The randomized trial includes people ages 65 to 80 who are genetically at risk for Alzheimer’s and do not exercise consistently. For 18 months, one group takes part in the home-based Peloton program and the control group goes about their daily sedentary lives.
A Cleveland Clinic study aims to prevent Alzheimer’s through exercise.— Micaela Marshall (@MMarshallTV) June 7, 2023
Soon on @SpectrumNews1OH, I’ll explain how and introduce you to one of the participants in the clinical trial. pic.twitter.com/g8Lb47kVCw
Rao said a previous observational study showed Alzheimer’s related progression can be slowed in those genetically at-risk who exercise regularly.
The National Institutes of Health awarded the Cleveland Clinic a $6.7 million grant for the clinical trial.
“Our approach is we want to take people who are at risk and do something that we know can make a difference in terms of prevention because prevention is a lot easier than trying to treat people who already have symptoms,” said Rao.
Diversity is important in clinical trials and Rao said his goal is for the study participants to reflect the general population, but currently they’re not meeting that target.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, older Black people are twice as likely as older white people to have Alzheimer’s.
“That’s why I speak to my church groups and things like that about doing the trials and if you see me and I’m okay, then you’re going to be okay too,” said Simms.
Simms encourages others to enroll to help those affected by Alzheimer’s.
“Hopefully, someday, there will be a cure and hopefully I can be a part of that cure or to help input some information to help someone else,” said Simms.