TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – The University of South Florida has partnered with a company to research dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and other cognitive disorders in seniors with handheld “brain games.”

USF has partnered with Reliance Medical Centers to conduct research at the center’s Lakeland location, as well as their Winter Haven location by the end of this year or the beginning of 2022.

The National Institutes of Health recently awarded the university a $44.4 million expected grant toward preventing Alzheimer’s with cognitive training (know as “PACT”) studies. Studies will be centered and implemented in the greater Tampa Bay area before expanding nationwide.

Dr. Aryn Bush, a research assistant professor at USF, leads the research efforts in Polk County and is a co-investigator of the study. She is also the vice president of science and translation at Reliance Medical Centers, a primary care facility.

She was introduced to those at Reliance through a colleague at a conference. She said their model is “very holistically focused” on prevention and being proactive, versus combating severe symptoms when a disorder has manifested.

The goal of the PACT clinical trial is to further research whether cognitive training, or “brain games,” can delay or prevent dementia.

“So we know from an already significant body of research that rigorous computer-based cognitive training does have positive effects on a number of different domains, including activities of daily living, (like) driving, including increasing processing speed, and how quickly we can process information in our brains with executing a task,” said Dr. Bush.

“In our research at USF, our focus is preventive techniques. It is early identification and early, novel, innovative intervention, so really targeted treatments,” the doctor explained.

According to Dr. Bush, a paper published by a colleague in recent years showed that this specific type of computer-based training reduced dementia risk by 29 to 48 percent, which she said, is “huge” without medications.

“We start to forget about behavioral and brain health cognition for you to be able to perform what you have to do on your every day (life), so saying that, we started to lead a holistic approach in seniors,” said Dr. Carlos Romero, the chief medical officer, co-CEO and co-founder of Reliance. 

Though the doctors cannot yet comment on what the games will entail, Dr. Bush said the research will focus on reducing risk and delaying the onset of cognitive disorders.

“The biggest fear of any human being is losing your memory. You could be the healthiest person but at the moment that you develop cognitive impairment… you lost everything, you lost your (independence),” said Dr. Romero.

Dr. Bush said that around 15 or so years ago, the “prevailing view” was that if someone was at risk for Alzheimer’s disease or related dementia, there was very little that could be done.

“I’m proud to say that it’s a much more optimistic picture now that we know there are things that we can do now that will impact our health and wellness immediately, and then in the long term, and the PACT clinical trial is an example of that,” Dr. Bush said.

“I tell my patients I want you to age healthy, happy and independent,” said Dr. Romero.

Those interested can go online to the PACT study’s website and information will soon be available via Reliance Medical Center’s websites as well.

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