Kansas University Medical Center gets $3 million grant to study Alzheimer’s disease prevention

Joe Gittemeier has seen several members of his immediate family die of Alzheimer’s disease.

“It is just awful,” the Prairie Village resident said.

So, when Gittemeier, 71, heard about research at the Kansas University Medical Center on Alzheimer’s prevention, he jumped at the chance to enroll in the study.

The retired stockbroker will be the first participant in a new $3 million project announced Thursday to test the role of exercise in preventing the disease.

The study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, is one of the first of its kind in the country.

“This is the first time we can really test the impact of exercise on prevention of Alzheimer’s disease,” said Dr. Jeffrey Burns, professor of neurology at KUMC and associate director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Center.

Burns needs 100 healthy people 65 or older for the trial.

Those applying will undergo a brain scan, and those with molecular changes associated with amyloid protein in the brain will be selected. The protein doesn’t mean the person has or will have Alzheimer’s but those with Alzheimer’s show signs of the protein.

Participants in the trial will be put on a regimen of cardiovascular exercise, such as walking on a treadmill, for one year. Brain scans will show whether the exercise is reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s.

Alzheimer’s is a progressive, irreversible neurological disorder. Most victims are older than 65, but Alzheimer’s can strike in the 40s or 50s. Symptoms include gradual memory loss, impairment of judgment, disorientation, personality change, difficulty in learning and loss of language skills. More than 5 million Americans are living with the disease, and it is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States.

Gittemeier said he was naturally interested in the study given that his father, brother, sister and aunt all developed the disease.

He wants to forestall the potential onset of Alzheimer’s and increase knowledge about the disease to help other people, he said.

People interested in learning more about how to participate in the program may call the Alzheimer’s Disease Center at 913-588-0555.