Exciting Alzheimer’s Research Updates

Pamela Atwood, MA, CDP, CLL, DCC-T, Director of Dementia Care Services, Hebrew Health Care

Rates of Dementia Decreasing with Simple Steps

The news from the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Copenhagen last week was encouraging. Rates of Americans getting dementia are decreasing, as are rates in other “rich” countries. Why? We are controlling our risk factors.

Last year, Hebrew Health Care published the Dementia Risk Screen: eight of the 11 risk factors are modifiable. The news this week confirms you can minimize your risks!

Research conducted at Boston University has analyzed rates of dementia through several decades. The Framingham Study indicates that an individual’s risk of getting dementia is 44% lower than it was, and that the average age of onset is now 85, compared to 80 in the 1970s.

The primary reason: improved health overall. Smoking rates have dropped. Heart disease rates are improving. Numbers of strokes have declined. The study indicates the following steps will continue to improve the numbers:
o Stop smoking
o Control blood pressure
o Manage weight
o Keep cholesterol levels within normal limits
o Exercise

In other countries, the numbers are improving as well. However, there are new health rates which may limit the excitement. Higher obesity and diabetes rates may further increase the risks of dementia. Quoted in an article by MSN News, Dallas Anderson, Chief of Epidemiology at the US National Institutes of Health said, “It may be what we have now is a sweet-spot (as people with these health issues are still young). They’re not in the dementia range yet, but what is going to happen (with them) in the pipeline?”

Take the Dementia Risk Screen at www.agingcareacademy.org. Listen to the podcasts to learn what you can do to minimize your risks starting today.

New Ways to Diagnose AD Being Developed

Three other breakthroughs were announced this week: a smell test, a blood test and an eye test.

Blood test – Kings College in London reported research conducted over the past decade to develop a test for diagnosis of AD. The studies indicate 87% accuracy. The test detects 10 proteins in the blood, and indicates onset of AD in the following 12 months.
“Why would I want to know?” responded one of my colleagues. “I think most people would NOT want to know,” said a caregiver when we discussed it at a support group meeting.

Most of these tests are being developed FOR research. Many researchers are concerned that drug targets fail because by the time the experimental agents are tried, the disease has taken too much of the brain to be effective.

The target for the blood test is people with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), the vast majority of who develop Alzheimer’s in 5 years following diagnosis.

Although this is exciting, there is no blood test for dementia ‘around the corner’, according to published reports. These are small studies. And with more than 10% of people being misdiagnosed, more work, on larger scale studies, is needed.

The other two tests – smell test and eye test – are correlation studies. At the AAIC press briefing, there were lots of discussions about these two studies. The smell test is about people who have MCI, they experience changes in their ability to smell, and that correlates with the transition to Alzheimer’s. For the eye test, proteins detected correlate with amyloid proteins in the brain. However, there are still a significant number of researchers and experts who question the amyloid THEORY as the protein responsible for plaques and tangles. These tests are based on theories of what causes Alzheimer’s. Also it is important to note that just because you have a change in your sense of smell does NOT mean you have AD. Many conditions affect taste and smell.

New Protein Identified in Alzheimer’s Plaque

There were hundreds of studies shared at AAIC. Another interesting one hails from Mayo Clinic in MN. Researchers have identified a new protein which may be another piece of the “plaque” puzzle. The research compared people who died with Alzheimer’s – some who had symptoms, and some had not. Of the 372 people, more than 200 had this new protein, in addition to amyloid protein. One theory is that perhaps the protein is a byproduct of the disease. The protein has been identified as critical in ALS/Lou Gehrig’s disease and other neurological conditions. More tests will be conducted.

There is still no known CAUSE of Alzheimer’s. Unfortunately, there is still no known cure. However, the research reported at the AAIC last week is encouraging for the ongoing efforts to find the answers which plague us.

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