Background: There remains no effective intervention capable of reversing most cases of dementia. Current research is focused on prevention by addressing risk factors that are shared between cardiovascular disease and dementia (e.g., hypertension) before the cognitive, functional, and behavioural symptoms of dementia manifest. A promising preventive treatment is exercise. This study describes the methods of a randomized controlled trial (RCT) that assesses the effects of aerobic exercise and behavioural support interventions in older adults at increased risk of dementia due to genetic and/or cardiovascular risk factors. The specific aims are to determine the effect of aerobic exercise on cognitive performance, explore the biological mechanisms that influence cognitive performance after exercise training, and determine if changes in cerebrovascular physiology and function persist 1 year after a 6-month aerobic exercise intervention followed by a 1-year behavioural support programme (at 18 months).
Methods: We will recruit 264 participants (aged 50-80 years) at elevated risk of dementia. Participants will be randomly allocated into one of four treatment arms: (1) aerobic exercise and health behaviour support, (2) aerobic exercise and no health behaviour support, (3) stretching-toning and health behaviour support, and (4) stretching-toning and no health behaviour support. The aerobic exercise intervention will consist of three supervised walking/jogging sessions per week for 6 months, whereas the stretching-toning control intervention will consist of three supervised stretching-toning sessions per week also for 6 months. Following the exercise interventions, participants will receive either 1 year of ongoing telephone behavioural support or no telephone support. The primary aim is to determine the independent effect of aerobic exercise on a cognitive composite score in participants allocated to this intervention compared to participants allocated to the stretching-toning group. The secondary aims are to examine the effects of aerobic exercise on a number of secondary outcomes and determine whether aerobic exercise-related changes persist after a 1-year behavioural support programme (at 18 months).
Discussion: This study will address knowledge gaps regarding the underlying mechanisms of the pro-cognitive effects of exercise by examining the potential mediating factors, including cerebrovascular/physiological, neuroimaging, sleep, and genetic factors that will provide novel biologic evidence on how aerobic exercise can prevent declines in cognition with ageing.
Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT03035851 . Registered on 30 January 2017.
Keywords: Alzheimer’s disease; Behavioural support; Brain health; Cognitive function; Dementia; Physical activity; Sleep quality.