This year’s Alzheimer’s Association International Conference took place July 22-28 in Toronto. The meeting brings some of the world’s leading Alzheimer’s researchers together to discuss their latest findings. I’ve compiled brief descriptions for some of the most exciting research presented at the meeting.
Mental Stimulation Greatly Influences Risk of Dementia
An unhealthy “Western” diet is associated with an increased risk of many health problems, including dementia. However, results presented at AAIC suggest mental stimulation in the form of higher education, a cognitively complex job, and/or social engagement can reduce the risk of cognitive decline in elderly adults, even those with a poor diet. Additionally, the highly-publicized ACTIVE study found that elderly subjects who participated in 10 years of regular cognitive training (similar to brain-training games like Luminosity) had a 48% reduced risk of dementia during the course of the study. Read more
Symptoms Checklist May Aid in Earlier Diagnosis of Alzheimer’s
Researchers have defined a new later-life neuropsychiatric condition called Mild Behavioral Impairment (MBI), which may be a precursor for Mild Cognitive Impairment and/or dementia later in life. The symptoms associated with MBI are grouped into five broad categories: mood, impulse control, apathy, social appropriateness, and psychosis. A recent study found that more than 80% of elderly adults at a memory clinic displayed at least one symptom of MBI, and that the symptoms were associated with increased caregiver burden. The researchers plan to refine the MBI checklist to be applicable to younger, non-demented subjects. Read more
Alzheimer’s Patients Receiving Treatment Have Reduced Mortality and Financial Burden
The medications for Alzheimer’s disease currently on the market can decrease the rate of cognitive decline but do not slow the overall progression of the disease. However, new results suggest that receiving treatment can reduce both mortality rates and medical costs for Alzheimer’s patients post-diagnosis. Patients who took dementia medications had a 28% reduced risk of dying during the approximately 2-year course of the study, and also paid more than $1,000 less each month in healthcare costs. Read more
High Cost of Preventable Hospitalizations Among Alzheimer’s Patients
A recent study shows that 1 in 7 hospitalizations among individuals with Alzheimer’s and related dementias is potentially preventable. These include hospital visits as a result of acute conditions like infection or dehydration, as well as chronic diseases including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, or respiratory illness. In total, preventable hospitalizations of dementia patients cost Medicare $2.58 billion dollars during 2013. Read more
Smell and Eye Tests May Predict Cognitive Decline
Two of the first brain regions affected by Alzheimer’s disease are the olfactory (smell) and visual systems. Studies presented at AAIC showed that neurodegeneration of the optic nerve or retina could be an effective predictor for the development of Alzheimer’s. Two other labs found that low scores on the University of Pennsylvania Smell Identification Test were associated with cognitive decline and dementia. Read more
Promising Anti-Tau Drug Fails in Clinical Trials
Alzheimer’s is characterized by the buildup of two toxic proteins in the brain: beta-amyloid and tau. After hundreds of drugs targeting beta-amyloid failed in clinical trials, researchers have recently begun to look into anti-tau drugs instead. Unfortunately, a promising anti-tau drug called LMTM failed in phase 3 of clinical trials. Apart from in a small subgroup of participants, the drug did not improve cognitive or neurological symptoms better than a placebo. Additionally, 80% of subjects experienced at least one adverse side effect. Read more
Men with Dementia are More Likely to Be Misdiagnosed than Women
It’s a commonly-held belief that women are at a greater risk of Alzheimer’s than men. However, it’s possible that innacurate diagnoses may contribute to this discrepancy (see Is It Really Alzheimer’s? 10 common misdiagnoses you should know about). A study of more than 1600 postmorten brains found equal rates of Alzheimer’s among men and women. Men typically have a younger age of onset and are more likely to exhibit atypical symptoms, increasing the risk of misdiagnosis. Another postmortem brain study found that across genders, approximately 10% of Alzheimer’s diagnoses were incorrect, with the true cause of memory loss usually being vascular dementia. Read more
Reducing Dependence on Antipsychotics in Dementia Care
Multiple studies have demonstrated that prescribing antipsychotics to dementia patients can accelerate the rate of cognitive decline and death. Nonetheless, this remains a common practice for treating the symptoms of dementia. In a recent study, nurses in 60 long-term care facilities were trained to manage patients’ dementia symptoms without the need for drugs. The patients’ doses of antipsychotics were incrementally reduced until they were eliminated. Most of the subjects were able to successfully cease antipsychotic use after a one-year follow-up. Read more
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