In 2019, researchers discovered meaningful insights into the causes, risk factors and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. Here are five of their important discoveries:
1. Lifestyle may play a major role in reducing risk. We’re told that eating a healthy diet and exercising are good for overall health, but did you know that these habits may also reduce one’s risk for cognitive decline and dementia? Research reported at this year’s Alzheimer’s Association International Conference suggested that making multiple healthy lifestyle choices -- including eating a low-fat, high vegetable diet, not smoking, getting regular exercise and engaging in cognitive stimulation -- may decrease dementia risk and may even offset increased risk caused by genes or exposure to air pollution. This year, researchers also learned that intensive high blood pressure treatment can significantly reduce the occurrence of mild cognitive impairment, which often leads to dementia.
2. A blood test is on the horizon. Researchers are working at full speed to develop a simple blood test that can detect signs of Alzheimer’s early and accurately. Blood tests are cheaper, easier to administer, less invasive and more accessible than many advanced technologies currently available for Alzheimer’s research and diagnosis. Once these tests become available in doctors’ offices, they may also play a role in early detection of dementia, giving individuals and families more time to plan for the future and get needed care and support services.
3. Alzheimer’s is different in men and women. Two-thirds of people living with Alzheimer’s disease in the U.S. are women, but scientists aren’t exactly sure why. This year, researchers learned about a number of differences in progression and risk between women and men, including newly identified sex-specific risk genes, sex-based differences in how Alzheimer’s may spread in the brain and cognitive benefits for women who participate in the paid workforce.
4. Vision and hearing loss may increase dementia risk. Most older adults experience some form of vision and/or hearing loss later in life. New research suggests these sensory impairments may increase risk for cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s, especially if you experience both. Sensory impairment screening may help identify older adults at higher risk of developing dementia, thereby encouraging early detection. This new knowledge opens the possibility that preventing or correcting sensory impairments may reduce dementia risk.
5. Researchers are looking at new drug targets. Researchers are taking a fresh look at the possible causes for dementia and how drugs might be used to stop the disease in its tracks. More than 500 new candidate drug targets have been identified that address everything from reducing inflammation in the brain to protecting nerve cell health. The Alzheimer’s Association’s Part the Cloud awards help fund this type of out-of-the-box research and move findings from the laboratory, through trials, into possible therapies for people.
Researchers are poised to uncover even more in 2020 and beyond. Increased funding for research from the federal government and nonprofit organizations is driving the rapidly growing body of knowledge about Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.