CALGARY – Researchers on the University of Calgary are starting a national project to attempt to get more insight into the brain as people age.
The CAN-PROTECT project, led by Dr. Zahinoor Ismail, begins Wednesday — the identical day that a recent paper he co-authored shows taking vitamin D could help prevent dementia.
“We compared older adults who were on vitamin D to those that weren’t on vitamin D over 10 years for the speed of development of dementia,” said Ismail, a professor of psychiatry and neurology on the U of C and the University of Exeter in the UK.
The 12,000 participants within the study, published within the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia, were a part of the National Alzheimer’s Coordinating Center in america. They’d a median age of 71 and didn’t have dementia once they signed up for it. About 37 per cent of those involved took vitamin D supplements.
“What we found was that individuals who were taking vitamin D at baseline in comparison with those that took no vitamin D over that point developed dementia probably at a 40 per cent lower rate, so it’s quite a major association,” Ismail said in an interview.
Researchers also found the consequences were greater in women than men and in those with normal cognition than those with mild cognitive impairment, which is related to the next risk of getting dementia.
Ismail said that might suggest “the sooner you begin, the more you may prevent progression.”
Ismail said he and others are actually working to get Canadian-specific data through the national research project. It’s modelled after a web-based platform called PROTECT, based on the University of Exeter, that asks annual questionnaires on detailed lifestyle aspects combined with some cognitive testing to find out what keeps the brain sharp later in life.
The Canadian project, he said, will construct on the outcomes of the vitamin D study with U.S. participants.
“We’re farther north and there are other variables that we wish to measure more closely regarding your ethnocultural group, whether you reside in a sunny place or not, whether you go south for the winter,” said Ismail.
“There are a lot of other variables that we’d wish to find out about that may allow us to refine our understanding much more.”
The study will probably be conducted online and researchers hope to recruit about 10,000 participants from across Canada.
“People join together with a study partner — someone who knows them well for a minimum of five years — after which there are annual measures of health and wellness, risk and resilience, cognition, behaviour function,” he said.
The study will run for 20 years, and he said people from all areas and backgrounds can join at any time.
“It’s a technique to really get an understanding of brain aging over time,” said Ismail, noting researchers will look closer at vitamin D and plenty of other aspects that might affect the brain.
The research, he added, can even include an examination of people that take care of those with dementia — each family caregivers in addition to nurses, occupational therapists and others who work in a caregiving role.
This report by The Canadian Press was first publishedMarch 1, 2023.