The overarching goal of this pilot project is to develop a virtual reality (VR) brain and body intervention aimed at improving brain health and cognition in older adults at risk of Alzheimer’s disease (AD). AD is the most common cause of cognitive impairment in older adults and affects 36 million people worldwide. Results from several large pharmacological trials have been sobering with no effective treatments for halting, slowing, or preventing the disease. Exercise has emerged as an exciting, lifestyle intervention to help remediate cognitive loss or delay onset of dementia. However, to fully leverage exercise benefits in this at-risk population, training the brain to learn and engage in a cognitively-stimulating environment may be key to effective therapies. Controlled cognitively-challenging environments created in a VR setting provide an adaptable and safe environment for improving cognitive dysfunction in older adults at risk for AD. While a large body of literature has found that exercise enhances cognition, very few studies have coupled physical and cognitive activity in a VR environment, simultaneously.

By engaging and challenging the mind during exercise over multiple training days, memories for newly acquired information may be stronger and longer-lasting than either cognitive or physical activity alone. Therefore, in this pilot grant, we aim to achieve 2 key goals: 1) to develop the foundation for a combined brain and body VR intervention (NeuroRiderVR), which targets the hippocampus, a key region of interest in older adults at risk for AD and 2) to investigate proof of concept metrics associated with cardiovascular fitness, physical function, and cognition after training. Results from this pilot study will seek extramural funding for a large scale intervention trial aimed at identifying an effective therapeutic for older adults at risk for Alzheimer’s disease.

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