Alzheimer's Conference Offers Signs of Hope in
Battle Against Mind-Crushing Disease
Below are some of the highlights from the Alzheimer's
Association International Conference that are important to every senior
By Tucker Sutherland, editor, SeniorJournal.com
16, 2014 – For the first time in the almost-20-years that I have closely
followed the battle against Alzheimer’s disease, I am encouraged about
our odds. As the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference for
this year wraps up in Copenhagen, the researchers and other experts who
made presentations convinced me we are finally getting our arms around
this cruel killer, and have a chance to - someday - bring it under
control. Below are the highlights and every senior citizen, the primary
victims of the disease, needs to read them.
There were several reports from the United States
and Europe suggesting the possibility of reducing risk and maybe even
preventing the disease most feared by most seniors. We have a full
report on this that you can reach by
Other data includes advances in early detection and
diagnosis, identifying risk factors and possible risk reduction
strategies, and the first-ever long-term clinical trial of a
multifaceted lifestyle change in older adults.
Also released at AAIC 2014 was new information on
the basic brain science of Alzheimer’s, trends in new cases of dementia
and overall numbers of people with the disease, the multiple benefits of
cataract surgery for people with Alzheimer’s and additional data about
drugs involved in Alzheimer’s prevention trials.
AAIC is the premier annual forum for presentation
and discussion of the latest Alzheimer’s and dementia research. Bringing
the world closer to breakthroughs in dementia science, AAIC 2014 brought
together approximately 4,000 leading experts and researchers from 75
countries around the world, and featured more than 1,700 scientific
Below are the summaries of discoveries you should
Potential for smell and eye tests in early
detection of Alzheimer’s
Two studies from AAIC 2014 provide increasing
evidence that the inability to correctly identify odors may indicate the
development of cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease. Based on
smell identification tests, cognitive tests and brain size, researchers
in one study of 215 elderly individuals found that loss of brain cell
function and worsened memory were associated with smell identification
A second study of 757 individuals representing
multiple ethnicities found that odor identification deficits were linked
with an increased risk of transition from mild cognitive impairment
(MCI) - a slight but noticeable and measurable decline in memory and
thinking skills - to Alzheimer’s disease. For each point lower a study
participant subject scored on a smell identification test, their risk
for Alzheimer’s increased by about 10 percent.
Two additional studies looked at possible eye tests
to detect Alzheimer’s. Preliminary results from one study, based on
findings from 40 of the study’s 200 participants, suggest that there is
a significant association between the level of beta-amyloid protein, the
main component of Alzheimer’s brain “plaques,” in the brain and levels
detected in the retina.
Study participants took a proprietary supplement
containing curcumin, which binds to beta-amyloid and has fluorescent
properties that allow amyloid plaques to be detected on the retina of
the eye with an advanced imaging technology.
In another study, researchers used a new laser
scanning system to measure beta-amyloid levels in the lenses of the eyes
of 20 study participants with Alzheimer’s disease and 20 without the
When the scientists, who were unaware of the
Alzheimer’s status of their subjects, compared amyloid levels based on
the eye lens test to amyloid plaque buildup estimates from brain
positron emission tomography (PET) scans, they were able to accurately
differentiate those with Alzheimer’s disease from those without it.
Largest study of brain tau PET imaging suggests
scans’ ability for early detection of dementia
The presence of “tangles” of abnormal tau protein
in the brain is one of the defining characteristics of Alzheimer’s. When
this protein becomes abnormal, it forms tangles of twisted fibers inside
brain cells, which kills them.
In a study of 52 cognitively normal seniors – the
largest study of its kind to date – researchers found that tau buildup
in several brain regions was closely linked with memory decline. Using a
newly developed PET scan technology to “see” tau in the brains of living
people, scientists found that study participants with higher levels of
tau buildup in areas of the brain important to memory performed worse on
memory tests over three years.
The Alzheimer’s Association says the findings
demonstrate the potential value of tau PET scans in early detection of
dementia and in identifying participants for Alzheimer’s and dementia
Lifestyle interventions may improve memory and
thinking in middle-age and older adults
A two-year randomized controlled clinical trial in
Finland is the first to demonstrate that a structured program of
multiple changes in lifestyle factors can improve memory and thinking in
older adults at risk for cognitive impairment and Alzheimer's.
The 1,260 older adults in the trial, whose ages
ranged from 60 to 77, were divided into two groups. One group received
an intervention that included nutritional guidance, physical exercise,
cognitive training, social activities and management of heart health
risk factors, while the control group received only regular health
After two years, the intervention group performed
significantly better on a comprehensive scale of memory and thinking,
and on specific tests of memory and executive function (including
planning, judgment and problem-solving).
A separate study of 329 cognitively normal
middle-aged adults in the U.S. with a genetic predisposition or parental
family history of Alzheimer’s found that participation in mentally
stimulating activities in middle-age may help protect against the
development of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia later in life.
The researchers found that participants who
self-reported a higher level of activities such as reading books and
going to the museum, especially those who reported playing games like
puzzles and cards more often, had higher test scores for memory and
thinking challenges, such as planning, judgment and problem-solving.
They also had greater volume in several brain regions involved in
Exercise in mid- and late-life associated with
decreased risk of dementia
Two studies reported at AAIC 2014 presented
evidence that regular physical activity may reduce the risk of
Alzheimer’s and other dementias.
In one study, 280 adults in the U.S. with a median
age of 81 completed a questionnaire on the frequency and intensity of
exercise during their lifetime. After observing the participants for
about three years, the researchers found that a history of moderate
physical exercise in middle age was associated with a significantly
decreased risk of mild cognitive impairment (MCI).
In a second study, researchers examined the
frequency and intensity of exercise of 1,830 adults with normal
cognition. The researchers found that light physical exercise in
mid-life and late-life was associated with a decreased risk of MCI, as
was vigorous physical exercise in mid-life and moderate physical
exercise in late-life. The Alzheimer’s Association urges everyone to
keep their brain healthy throughout their life. Tips and the latest
research are at alz.org.
Late-onset high blood pressure could protect
While hypertension during midlife may increase risk
for Alzheimer’s and other dementias, there is emerging evidence that its
association with dementia risk may change over time, and may instead
help protect against dementia in people age 90 and over.
Researchers followed 625 older adults in the U.S.
without dementia for up to 10 years and found that those with the onset
of high blood pressure at age 80 to 89 had a significantly lower risk of
developing dementia compared with participants with no history of high
blood pressure. Those with the onset of hypertension at age 90 or older
had even lower dementia risk.
Cataract surgery improves not only vision but
cognition and quality of life
A small clinical trial in the U.S. found that
cataract surgery for people with Alzheimer’s and other dementias not
only improves vision but can slow decline in cognition and improve
quality of life for both people with the disease and their caregivers.
Preliminary analysis of results found that 20
participants who had surgery to remove cataract had significantly
improved vision and quality of life compared to the eight participants
who did not receive surgery.
In addition, those who received the surgery
experienced a reduced decline in memory and mental tasks such as
planning, judgment, and problem-solving, as well as improvements in
Levels of perceived burden for caregivers of people
in the surgical group showed improvement. The Alzheimer’s Association
recommends that preferences about medical treatment and decisions should
be addressed early in the disease process through the execution of
Psychological intervention for caregivers may
reduce anxiety and depression
A randomized controlled trial in the U.K. found
that a psychological support program for family caregivers of people
with dementia significantly reduced caregivers’ anxiety and depression,
and the impact lasted for two years.
In the trial, 260 family caregivers were divided
into two groups. One group received standard care and the other received
an intervention consisting of eight sessions that included education
about dementia, caregiver stress and where to get emotional support, and
techniques for dealing with caregiving challenges. Caregivers who
received the eight-session intervention showed significantly better
results on measures of depression, anxiety and cost of care.
Researchers noted this may help caregivers stay in
their role longer and provide more consistent care, which may delay
placement of the person with dementia into a nursing home. The
Alzheimer’s Association believes it is very important for caregivers to
take care of themselves, and to reach out for help. Learn more at
Diabetes drug associated with reduced risk of
A study of a large German database of people age 60
or older who were free of Alzheimer’s and others dementias found that
long-term use of the diabetes drug pioglitazone may reduce incidence of
dementia. Researchers at AAIC 2014 presented the study, which examined
more 145,712 subjects over six years. Results suggest that reduced risk
of dementia was significantly associated with use of pioglitazone.
Researchers noted one possible theory is the drug’s ability to suppress
Additional abnormal protein, TDP-43, found in
brains of people with Alzheimer’s
Researchers identified that an abnormal protein,
known as TDP-43, may play an important role in Alzheimer's disease along
with two previously identified proteins. Researchers examined the brains
of 342 people identified after death as having Alzheimer’s-related
changes for the presence, amount and distribution of TDP-43. More than
half the brains had TDP-43.
In addition, people with TDP-43 were ten times more
likely to have been cognitively impaired at death than subjects without
it. The scientists speculate that TDP-43 may help explain why some
people have Alzheimer’s changes in their brain, but do not experience
dementia. It is vitally important to fund basic research to learn more
about Alzheimer’s disease, and to feed the front end of the therapy
pipeline. The Alzheimer’s Association is the world’s leading nonprofit
funder of Alzheimer’s disease research.
The Alzheimer’s Association International
Conference (AAIC) is the world’s largest gathering of leading
researchers from around the world focused on Alzheimer’s and other
dementias. As a part of the Alzheimer’s Association’s research program,
AAIC serves as a catalyst for generating new knowledge about dementia
and fostering a vital, collegial research community. Scientists leading
the advancement of research gather to report and discuss the most
current data on the cause, diagnosis, treatment and prevention of
Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders.
About the Alzheimer’s Association
The Alzheimer’s Association is the world’s leading
voluntary health organization in Alzheimer care, support and research.
Our mission is to eliminate Alzheimer’s disease through the advancement
of research; to provide and enhance care and support for all affected;
and to reduce the risk of dementia through the promotion of brain
health. Our vision is a world without Alzheimer’s. Visit
www.alz.org or call
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