Early Phase Feasibility Trial: Examining the Effects of Diet on Genetic and Psychosocial Risks for Alzheimer’s Disease

Julia Sheffler, PhD (PI, Behavioral Sciences and Social Medicine); Bahram Arjmandi, PhD (Co-I, Nutrition, Food & Exercise Sciences); Sylvie Naar, PhD (Co-I, Behavioral Sciences and Social Medicine); Cynthia Vied, PhD (Co-I, Translational Science Laboratory); Jamie Quinn, PhD (Co-I, Florida Center for Reading Research); Paul Katz, PhD (consultant, Geriatrics); Neda Akhavan, PhD (consultant, Nutrition, Food & Exercise Sciences)

Older couple cooking in the kitchen
Older couple cooking in the kitchen

Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, and research has demonstrated that lifestyle factors such as nutrition and exercise can influence the onset and severity of this disease. Recent research suggests that certain types of nutrition, such as Mediterranean and ketogenic, may provide the greatest therapeutic effects before disease onset. While Dr. Sheffler’s research is in the early stages, it is important to develop interventions with dissemination in mind. That is, interventions need to work and must be easy for people to use. Substantially changing nutrition and lifestyle can be incredibly challenging for many people. Thus, Dr. Sheffler and her team are identifying ways to support individuals to increase adherence to nutrition and lifestyle changes. They are using psychological principles of motivational interviewing and cognitive behavior therapy delivered through a group intervention to help older individuals make recommended lifestyle changes. Through funding provided by the FSU Translational Health Research Seed Grant Program, the research team has already developed a comprehensive assessment and screening protocol to try to identify individuals who could be at risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease. They sought to test the proof-of-concept for an intervention designed to help individuals adhere to ketogenic nutrition, a promising intervention for early cognitive impairment. The project’s primary goal was to test the feasibility and acceptability of the assessment and intervention protocols.

Dr. Sheffler’s team includes experts in psychology, nutrition, genetics, neuroscience, and geriatrics. Using a team science approach, we developed and tested a 6-week group ketogenic nutrition adherence program for older adults. One-hundred percent of the participants completed the program, in addition to all assessment appointments. This high retention rate demonstrates that the protocol is highly feasible. Further, a majority of participants indicated that they significantly benefited from the program and planned to continue using ketogenic nutrition after the study ended. In addition to some self-reported benefits, preliminary analyses found a significant improvement in cognitive performance from pre- to post-intervention using a repeatable neuropsychological battery. Participants also provided helpful feedback for streamlining and improving the acceptability of the program for the next phase of research. The team plans to complete a larger pilot test to examine ways to disseminate this program to reach more individuals in the community.

Last Updated: Monday, November 9, 2020 at 2:48 PM