More than five million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease and experts expect that number to triple by 2050. And veterans face a higher risk than the general population.

Faced with these challenges, UW and the William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital have started a study to evaluate whether fish oil favorably alters early brain changes associated with Alzheimer’s by improving blood flow to the brain. The research will be done in veterans with a family history of Alzheimer’s disease.

Cindy Carlsson, MD, MS, an associate professor of medicine (geriatrics) and a provider at the Veterans Hospital, leads the study and specifically studies Alzheimer’s disease in the veteran population.

“Veterans have a higher risk of developing dementia. They have more depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injuries. We aren’t clear on all the reasons but we think there are more vascular/blood-flow risk factors in that population,” said Carlsson. “We need to develop therapies that, if not prevent Alzheimer’s disease, at least delay onset so we can give people more years of good life memories.”

The study is currently looking for veterans age 50-75 with a parental history of Alzheimer’s disease. The veteran needs to be eligible for VA services and have normal memory and thinking. The brain changes associated with Alzheimer’s disease occur decades before memory and thinking changes occur.

“We know fish oil has beneficial effects on heart health. There is some evidence to suggest it may help against Alzheimer’s disease brain changes, but this is not proven yet,” Carlsson says. “If spinal fluid measures of Alzheimer’s proteins and blood flow tests improve, then we are more hopeful that this high-dose fish oil may reduce risk for Alzheimer’s disease memory changes.”

The study requires nine visits over 18 months at the VA and UW hospitals in Madison. Veterans enrolled in the study will have baseline tests, including a cognitive test, a spinal-fluid test, and an MRI to measure blood flow in the brain.

The study’s full title is BRAVE- EPA Study (Brain Amyloid and Vascular Effect of Eicosapentaenoic Acid) Study.