SAN FRANCISCO, June 27, 2022 — The National Institutes of Health has awarded a grant to Posit Science, maker of the BrainHQ brain fitness app, for the development of a model community-based program for dementia prevention in collaboration with the YMCA of San Francisco.
The government estimates 5.8 million people in the US have Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias, with greater risk among women, minorities and underserved communities. Dementia prevalence and costs will grow without an effective therapeutic approach.
Recently, there have been significant advances in understanding “modifiable” risk factors for dementia. The purpose of the NIH-funded project is to design, develop, and implement a Brain Health Program to help older adults use evidence-based approaches to reduce risk.
The community-based Brain Health Program plans to leverage the behavioral change infrastructure developed by the Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP). DPP is a model curriculum for classes in diet and physical exercise to lower risk of type 2 diabetes. Developed by the YMCA, researchers, and government agencies, DPP has engaged 325,000+ participants through 3,000+ organizations, reducing new cases of type 2 diabetes by an estimated 58%.
The Brain Health Program is being developed by Posit Science and the YMCA in collaboration with brain health experts at the University of California, San Francisco.
Studies suggest some 40% of dementia cases result from modifiable behavioral risk factors – and that adopting brain healthy lifestyle changes can reduce dementia risk. For example, a 2017 study of 2,800 older adults showed BrainHQ training drove a 29% reduction in dementia risk. The World Health Organization and the American Academy of Neurology each recommend behavioral changes in their guidelines on dementia risk.
“We know what people can do to lower risk,” said Dr. Henry Mahncke, CEO of Posit Science. “What we’ve lacked is the key step – offering community-based health classes to make this proven science usable in real-world settings. If my Mom can sign up for a gym class in her community to keep physically fit, she should be able to sign up for a brain health class in her community to keep cognitively fit. The Diabetes Prevention Program reduced new cases of diabetes by more than 50%, and I believe the Brain Health Program should have a similar effect on dementia.”
“By helping people adopt evidence-based behaviors to reduce dementia risk – such as brain exercise, physical exercise and a brain-healthy diet – we can develop a model program to reduce the impact of cognitive decline and dementia on our community,” observed Jamie Bruning-Miles, President & Chief Executive Officer, of the YMCA of San Francisco. “We hope this will become an effective program that can be used by community groups everywhere.”
The grant award was made by the National Institute of Aging of the NIH under the Alzheimer’s Disease Initiative program in the amount of $465,000, with work planned to commence this year and wrap up in 2023. Additional information about the project can be found at brainhealthprogram.org.
Since 1853, the mission of the YMCA of San Francisco is to address critical issues within its many communities served — whether addressing resource-connection issues faced by immigrants, providing safe spaces and outdoor accessibility for children from all backgrounds, providing Family Resource Center programs and food resources in lower-income housing, and supporting the needs of older adults to remain active in the community. The YMCA of San Francisco strives to address community needs and fill programming-based gaps in order to provide the greatest impact in San Francisco, Marin, and San Mateo counties through 14 YMCA campuses and 160 off-campus programs.
More than 100 published studies of the exercises in BrainHQ have shown benefits, including gains in standard measures of cognition (attention, speed, memory, executive function, social cognition), in measures of quality of life (mood, confidence and control, managing stress, health-related quality of life) and in real world activities (gait, balance, driving, everyday cognition, maintaining independence). BrainHQ is now offered, without charge, as a benefit by leading national Medicare Advantage plans and by hundreds of clinics, libraries, and communities. Consumers can try BrainHQ for free at http://www.brainhq.com.