The Latest Alzheimer’s Research AAIC
Last week 4,300 of the leading minds in Alzheimer’s research and treatment gathered in Vancouver, British Columbia at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference to share some of the latest ideas, findings and breakthroughs. Here is a look at the highlights:
An experimental treatment called Intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG/Gammagard, Baxter) has successfully halted the cognitive decline in people with Alzheimer’s disease for three years, according to the clinical trials. This is the first treatment of its kind to halt memory loss for any long period of time.
It’s important to remember that this particular treatment is still squarely in the experimental phase. The initial test trial involved only 24 people and has not been reproduced yet in any subsequent trials. Researchers hope to have more definitive data on short-term use of IVIG within the next year.
Several studies presented at the AAIC suggest that sleep problems are significantly associated with cognitive impairment. Some of the telling sleep issues include too much or too little sleep, sleep disordered breathing, daytime sleepiness.
Using data from the Nurse’s Health Study, researchers compared the cognitive assessments of 15,000 female nurses with the average amount of sleep each participant reported. They found that women who reported sleeping an average of five hours or less each day had significantly slower cognitive assessments than those who slept an average of seven hours. However, women who slept more than nine hours also had a significantly lower cognitive assessment.
Another study from the University of California San Francisco found that women who had sleep-disordered breathing, usually brought on by sleep apnea, were twice as likely to have received a diagnosis of cognitive impairment or dementia.
The newly formed Alzheimer’s Prevention Initiative (API) aims to begin trials of up and coming Alzheimer’s treatments in cognitively normal people who, based on their age and genetic background, are at the highest risk for developing Alzheimer’s later in life.
Up to now, most of the people used to test Alzheimer’s treatments already have the disease. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, there is an urgent need to find preclinical Alzheimer’s treatments that postpone the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, reduce the risk of developing the disease or even completely prevent Alzheimer’s. And these types of treatments are best tested on people who are not already afflicted.
The study will focus on 300 individuals from an extended family in Columbia—one that has shown a predisposition to Alzheimer’s disease – and about two dozen people in the U.S. who have younger-onset Alzheimer’s-causing gene mutations, but, as yet, no symptoms.
Two different studies reported at the Vancouver conference suggest that drinking alcohol at moderate levels and greater can increase the risk of cognitive decline.
One study tracked the alcohol consumption of women over a 20-year period, while monitoring their cognitive health. The study found that women who reported drinking more early in their life had a 30 percent increased risk of some kind of cognitive impairment and that women who drank ‘moderately’ (7 to 14 drinks per week) in mid-life had a 60 percent increased risk of cognitive impairment.
Finally, women who went from being non-drinkers to any kind of drinking over the course of the 20-year study had a 200 percent increased chance of cognitive impairment.
The second study found that binge drinking – or heavy episodes of drinking in someone who is not ordinarily a heavy drinker – can increase the risk of cognitive decline in older adults. For purposes of the study, “binge drinking” was defined as four or more drinks in one sitting.
People who reported binge drinking once a month were 62 percent more likely to experience cognitive decline and 27 percent more likely to experience memory decline. Participants who said they engaged in heavy drinking twice per month or more were 147 percent more likely to experience cognitive decline and 149 percent more likely to experience memory decline.
The outcomes were similar for men and women when assessed separately.
Among the new findings in several clinical trials:
- Moderate walking may help stimulate the brain region related to memory and increase nerve growth.
- Resistance training may improve thinking and memory in older adults with mild cognitive impairment.
- Higher functioning older adults may be more likely to show cognitive benefits from resistance training.
- Aerobic, strength and balance training when practiced together may improve memory in people with mild cognitive impairment.
The U.S. National Institutes on Aging (NIA) and the Alzheimer’s Association published new criteria for the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. The guidelines separate the progression of Alzheimer’s into three distinct phases based on improved diagnostic testing for Alzheimer’s and a better understanding of the biomarkers associated with the progression of the disease.
The new phases are:
- Pre-clinical (or pre-symptomatic)
- Mild cognitive impairment (MIC)
- Alzheimer’s disease dementia
A biomarker is an objective measurement that can act as an indicator of normal biological processes, disease processes or responses to therapies. For example, blood cholesterol levels are a biomarker for heart disease.