$4.5M grant to explore link between exercise, slowing down Alzheimer’s

May 25, 2023

A $4.5 million groundbreaking grant will fund research to explore a promising link between aerobic exercise and slowing the progression of Alzheimer's disease in a study led by an Arizona State University researcher.

An estimated 6.7 million Americans age 65 and older are living with Alzheimer's disease, according to the Alzheimer’s Association's 2023 report An older couple are side by side working out on stationary bikes in a gym A $4.5 million groundbreaking grant from the National Institute on Aging will fund research exploring a promising link between aerobic exercise and slowing the progression of Alzheimer's. Photo courtesy Shutterstock Download Full Image

“Alzheimer’s is a complex disease with many factors contributing to it, which is part of the reason we haven’t found a single cure. Recently though, we’ve found that modifying lifestyle factors may contribute to slowing the progression of the disease,” said Professor Fang Yu, Edson Chair in Dementia Translational Nursing Science at the Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation.

The grant comes from the National Institute on Aging, a division of the National Institutes of Health. Yu and her team will conduct the first-ever sequential, multiple assignment, randomized trial, or SMART, for Alzheimer’s disease.

“I think this grant shows what Professor Yu and her team are doing is really cutting edge. This research could impact millions of people, potentially giving them some hope of relief from a terrible disease that steals their very essence. I’m looking forward to the findings and seeing how they develop into real-world interventions,” said Edson College Dean Judith Karshmer.

This area of research builds on Yu’s previous work, which found that a six-month exercise program significantly reduced cognitive decline in comparison to the natural course of changes for Alzheimer’s dementia. Specifically, aerobic exercise is effective in reducing white matter hyperintensities progression, which is associated with cognitive decline and the development of dementia.

The new Phase 2 clinical trial will examine the best exercises to improve aerobic fitness in older adults with early Alzheimer’s disease and examine how those exercises impact their memory.

“The most exciting part of this is trying to reduce the variations in responses to exercise among participants. To this point, we’ve seen some people improve, while some decline. So, what we’re trying to do is to reduce the variability to help people respond positively in some way so we can truly understand if exercise has an impact and for who,” Yu said.

The team is planning to recruit more than 100 participants in Arizona to enroll in the study. They’re looking for people who are 65 and older, who have noticed changes in their memory and have someone who knows them to serve as their study partner.

To learn more about the study and eligibility, email braintraining@asu.edu or call 602-496-2292.

Amanda Goodman

Senior communications specialist, Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation


Social work professor to study babywearing as Fulbright Scholar

Practice said to increase bonding, provide benefits for both caregiver and child

May 25, 2023

When Lela Rankin first became a mother, she engaged in a parenting practice not many Westerners are aware of, even though its roots date back to the dawn of humankind and its advantages include providing health and bonding to both caregivers and children.

It’s called babywearing. Rankin, an accomplished Arizona State University researcher on the practice, will spend a semester in Canada further studying its benefits as a 2023–24 Fulbright Scholar. Lela Rankin "babywears" her son in a colorful cloth wrap as both look at the camera, a brick building behind them. ASU social work Professor Lela Rankin practiced babywearing with her son, who at the time of this photo was 3 years old. Rankin's research has found increased bonding and health benefits as a result of carrying a child either in a cloth wrap or backpack. Photo courtesy Lela Rankin Download Full Image

Babywearing involves carrying a child for long periods, either in a cloth wrapped around the mother’s torso or in a backpack-style carrier. It isn’t as popular in Western societies as in others, said Rankin, a professor at the School of Social Work’s Tucson campus.

Among the reasons are cultural norms and workplace policies, as well as times when children are secured in car seats or placed in swings to soothe them.

Rankin has been studying babywearing for many years and successfully practiced it herself, frequently advocating for its use nationally and internationally to enhance parenting and promote infant development.

“Babywearing is a tool that can enhance attachment and understanding of the child’s needs,” she said.

The Fulbright Scholar Program supports U.S. academics’ travel abroad to collaborate, interact and share knowledge, then return home with a deeper understanding of other cultures.

The program is administered by the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and awards approximately 8,000 grants each year, mostly to students. About 800 of the grants go to scholars such as Rankin.

Alumni include 62 Nobel Laureates, 89 Pulitzer Prize winners, 78 MacArthur Fellows and thousands of leaders and internationally renowned experts in academic disciplines and many other fields in the private, public and nonprofit sectors.

Rankin will spend one semester in eastern Canada researching, as well as developing a collaboration between ASU and St. Mary’s University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where she will be based.

Rankin said compared to societies on other continents, parents in the West are more apt to use devices such as swings and car seats that separate them from their infants and toddlers, who, in the first months after birth, often long for the reassurance of physical contact with their caregivers.

Babywearing has actually been around quite a long time, Rankin said, adding that archaeologists have discovered evidence of the practice occurring thousands of years ago.

Her research found that babywearing provides benefits beyond mere transportation. Children and parents bond more deeply, experience reduced stress and are healthier overall.

Helps mothers 'feel the joy' through physical proximity

Carrying their children for much of the day helps mothers “feel the joy,” Rankin said. Such feelings don’t simply come through an instinct with which parents naturally come equipped; instead, they are enhanced through physical proximity, she said.

In addition, fewer instances of post-partum depression are reported in cultures where babywearing is more prevalent, Rankin said. Dads, too, can reap the benefits of babywearing in the form of increased bonding time with their children.

Rankin, who was born and raised in eastern Canada, still has family in Nova Scotia and will return there next year.

“It will be a great opportunity to be reconnected with the community there,” she said.

School of Social Work Director and Foundation Professor Elizabeth Lightfoot, who was a Fulbright Scholar in Namibia in 2008 and Romania in 2018, said she is thrilled that Rankin’s Fulbright award will enable her to conduct more babywearing research in Canada as well.

“As a former Fulbright scholar myself and the current Fulbright ambassador for social work faculty, I know how career- and life-changing a Fulbright scholarship can be,” Lightfoot said. “We look forward to Dr. Rankin’s new partnership with colleagues in Canada and the potential for broader collaborations for other faculty and students.”

Mark J. Scarp

Media Relations Officer, Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions