By Brittany Mosser
Since I’ve returned from the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC) in D.C., people keep asking me, “How was it?” The word that keeps jumping to my mind is exciting! Throughout the halls of the Convention Center there was a constant buzz of conversation and discovery as engaged researchers and practitioners shared findings from their work and collaborated about how to move towards a world without Alzheimer’s disease. For me, some of the most interesting information was on the prevention of Alzheimer’s and how we can best care for people living with dementia and their families.
Numerous presentations at AAIC this year contributed to growing evidence that an individual’s lifestyle, experiences, health and environment in childhood and younger adulthood may influence his or her risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
The idea that there is a relationship between Type 2 Diabetes, which is often a result of lifestyle factors in mid-life, and Alzheimer’s has been widely accepted for some time. However, the first study to suggest that individuals with Type 1 Diabetes have a significantly higher likelihood of developing dementia was announced at AAIC. Another study suggested that school performance at age 9-10 is associated with late life dementia risk, and may provide the foundation for successful cognitive aging.
And perhaps the easiest lifestyle change to consider was from studies that explored the link between sleep and physical activity to higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Results of three new trials of aerobic exercise in Alzheimer’s disease provide hope that people can reduce their risk of developing dementia and prolong independence and improve quality of life for those who have been diagnosed.
So why are these types of findings so important when we already know these things improve our overall health? Well, If we can identify behaviors and activities that appear to put someone at risk of developing Alzheimer’s, we can start to change those behaviors, lower our risk, delay the onset of symptoms or even prevent the disease altogether.
As a Helpline Coordinator and Care Consultant, one of the most important issues considered at AAIC to my work was about how are we currently caring for individuals with Alzheimer’s and their families. I work with people who have been diagnosed and their families who are looking for hope every day.
A guiding theme throughout these presentations was person-centered care and maintaining the individual’s autonomy throughout the course of the disease. Dr. Laura Gitlin with Johns Hopkins Hospital shared research that validates the importance of supporting caregivers through education, skills training and care consultation. Her work suggests this not only lowers caregiver stress, but enhances their loved one’s participation in daily life.
Before I left for AAIC, I have to admit that I thought I would be a fish out of water. I’m not a scientist. I’m not a mathematician. Returning from AAIC, I understand more than ever the only way to we are going to achieve our goal of a world without Alzheimer’s is by working together. We certainly need the brilliant researchers that I listened to over the past week, but they need all of us too!
We can increase the number of people participating in Alzheimer’s research and advancing studies like those at AAIC. Visit alz.org/research to learn about how you can volunteer to advance research for a cure. We can continue to fund research through the Walk to End Alzheimer’s.
Dr. Eric Reiman of the Banner Alzheimer’s Institute closed his plenary talk at AAIC by reminding more than 4,000 researchers and practitioners that when we engage with individuals and families affected by Alzheimer’s, we are reminded of the urgency to find a cure. I feel that urgency. I hope that you will join me and the Alzheimer’s Association as we continue to pursue a world without Alzheimer’s.
Brittany Mosser, MSW is the Helpline Coordinator & Care Consultant at the Washington State Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. In that role, she provides telephone based support, consultation, and resources to community members that contact the Alzheimer’s Association’s 24/7 Helpline at 1-800-272-3900.