AAIC 2019: 5 top news stories

Over 6,000 researchers from more than 60 countries attended the 2019 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC) last month in Los Angeles. AAIC is the world’s largest gathering of researchers focused on Alzheimer’s and dementia science.The four-day conference featured more than 3,400 presentations, convening and catalyzing the scientific community to uncover the causes, progression, risk factors, treatment and prevention of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.

More than 40 attendees and 30 presenters from our service area participated in the conference, including Washington State Chapter’s research champion, Joel Loiacono. 

“I was really impressed with the research presented at AAIC this year,” said Loiacono. “The biggest takeaway for me was that the disease-altering treatment we’re all hoping for will not be solely pharmacological. The likelihood is that treatments will be a combination of medications and lifestyle changes. It’s exciting to know that we may have at least some control over Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias by leading a healthier lifestyle.”

Top News Stories from AAIC

We’re sharing the top five news stories from AAIC below. These reports were some of the most promising and hopeful among a record number of scientific studies presented at the conference. For more information or to read other news from AAIC, please visit alz.org/aaic

  1. Research continues on blood biomarkers for predicting dementia 

There is a global “race” to uncover and develop blood-based biological markers for Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. Blood-based tests would be welcomed by clinicians, researchers and the public because, in general, they are cheaper, easier to administer, less invasive and more accessible than the technologies currently available for Alzheimer’s. The hope is that they can be used as early detection tools and to track the impact of therapeutic interventions. 

New studies reported at AAIC 2019 investigated blood-based markers including Alzheimer’s hallmarks amyloid and tau, but also markers of general brain cell damage and for the first time — dementia with Lewy Bodies. The new reports from scientists in the US, Japan, France and Italy show that blood biomarkers seem to correlate well with existing, more-expensive, more-invasive tests such as brain imaging and cerebrospinal fluid analysis.  

The Alzheimer’s Association supports the search for less expensive, easier to administer, less invasive and more accessible screening tools — like blood tests — for Alzheimer’s disease, and is actively funding research looking at blood biomarkers.

  1. Lifestyle factors impacting dementia

Evidence continues to build that healthy lifestyle habits are powerful tools to reduce risk, and possibly prevent, Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. In particular, combining multiple healthy lifestyle factors, as in the Alzheimer’s Association’s U.S. POINTER Study, may be the most impactful. Five research studies reported at AAIC 2019 suggest:

  • Adopting four or five healthy lifestyle factors reduced risk of Alzheimer’s dementia by 60% compared to adopting none or only one factor.
  • Adherence to a healthy lifestyle may counteract genetic risk for Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Having a higher cognitive reserve, built through formal education and cognitive stimulation, may benefit the aging brain by reducing risk of dementia among people exposed to high levels of air pollution.
  • Confirmation that early adult to mid-life smoking may be associated with cognitive impairment at mid-life, as early as one’s 40s.
  • Alcohol use disorder significantly increased risk of dementia in older women.

These are accessible, inexpensive and easy changes that nearly everyone can make in their lives, despite their circumstances. Some things you can’t change — like your genes — but most people have some control over healthy habits.  You can start living healthier today. Learn more about brain-healthy habits by reading  10 Ways to Love Your Brain.

  1. Sex differences and dementia 

Alzheimer’s disease disproportionately affects women, both as people with the disease and as caregivers. As a result, over the last three years, the Alzheimer’s Association has invested $3.2 million into 14 projects looking at sex differences in Alzheimer’s disease. New evidence reported at AAIC suggests that there may be sex-specific differences in the biology of the disease that impact risk, progression and resilience. 

  •  A study of 1,022 people found women’s brains have better brain glucose (sugar) metabolism than men, suggesting a biological possibility for why women perform better on verbal memory tests, even with the same levels of amyloid as men. 
  • Another study found women have larger and more diffuse connective pathways in the brain than men, which impacts the spread of tau in Alzheimer’s. 
  • A third study found 11 different genes that conferred Alzhiemer’s risk differently between women and men
  1. Dementia in the LGBT Community

We know very little about Alzheimer’s and dementia in the LGBT community; in fact, the first prevalence data for this population was reported just last year. Research reported at AAIC 2019 adds to our body of knowledge in this area:

  • One study found LGBT persons were 29% more likely to report subjective cognitive decline than their cisgender heterosexual counterparts. 
  • Another study from the University of Washington described the first-ever federally-funded intervention to support LGBT older adults with dementia and their caregivers.  

While future studies are needed to better understand the risk factors for LGBT people, we do know that this population faces unique challenges in terms of accessing support services, and that there is a strong need to create a supportive healthcare environment and caregiving resources within this community.

  1. Differences in sleep medications and dementia risk

We know from previous research — some reported at AAIC — that problems with sleep may be associated with increased risk of Alzheimer’s or other dementia. For example, sleep-disordered breathing, or sleep apnea, may increase risk of Alzheimer’s-related brain changes, cognitive decline and dementia. At the same time, it is quite common for people living with Alzheimer’s to experience difficulty sleeping or changes in their sleep patterns.

New reports at AAIC 2019 from two large-scale studies suggest that:

  • Use of sleep medications may be associated with increased dementia risk in some populations (caucasians) but not others (non caucasians).
  • The impact on dementia risk may depend on the presence of sleep disturbance, especially in women.

Two other AAIC reports looked at interventions to improve sleep in people living with dementia or mild cognitive impairment. One was a drug study; the other combined physical activity with strict regulation of the sleep-wake schedule. Both were positive, though small and preliminary.

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