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Findings at World Alzheimer’s Conference
Stephen J. Baetge
2009 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference on Alzheimer’s
Disease (ICAD 2009) concluded on July 16 in Vienna, Austria, leaving
the more than 3,000 participating researchers from over 70 countries
with a host of new knowledge about what is considered to be the major
health epidemic of the 21st century.
The event served to assess the potential impact of Alzheimer’s on the world’s
aging population, and it highlighted advances in treatment for those suffering
with the disease.
“The cost of caring for people who have Alzheimer’s, and those who
will get it, will bankrupt the health care system and devastate Medicare and
Medicaid,” stated the Alzheimer’s Association’s Chief Medical
and Scientific Officer, William Thies, Ph.D.
“Fortunately, the field is progressing, and we may soon see changes in
the landscape of Alzheimer’s diagnosis, care, treatment and prevention.
How fast we get there depends completely on investment in research,” Thies
continued. “We must capitalize on the advances made in the last decade.”
The results of two major studies on DHA — the most abundant omega 3 fatty
acid in the brain and a possible key to Alzheimer’s — were released
at the conference.
The two studies offered mixed results but supported the possibility that treatments
must be given early in the Alzheimer’s process for them to be truly effective,
leading to a recommendation that efforts be focused on improving the early detection
and diagnosis of Alzheimer’s.
Another study found that the Alzheimer’s treatment drug Dimebon may improve
cognitive function in people with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s, but how
the drug produces these benefits remains unclear.
A report from Europe released at the conference found that the number of people
with Alzheimer’s and dementia — both new cases and total numbers
with the disease — continues to rise among the very oldest segments of
Previous studies had suggested that the number of people with Alzheimer’s
and dementia begins to level off and perhaps even go down a bit in people age
90 and above.
“This study’s results confirm that Alzheimer’s and dementia
are very common among the oldest people in society,” stated the report’s
author, Ugo Lucca, head of the Laboratory of Geriatric Neuropsychiatry at the
Mario Negri Institute for Pharmacological Research in Milano, Italy.
“We believe this strengthens the need to shift more of the focus on clinical
research to this segment of the elderly population,” he added.
Two of the studies at the conference examined the relationship between post traumatic
stress disorder (PTSD) and alcohol consumption with the risk of contracting Alzheimer’s.
The PTSD study involved more than 181,000 veterans ages 55 and older without
dementia, and it showed that there may be a nearly two times higher Alzheimer’s
risk in veterans with PTSD than those without it.
Research on alcohol consumption suggested a lower Alzheimer’s risk among
adults who drank moderate amounts of alcohol (one or two drinks per day), versus
those who do not drink or who are heavy drinkers. However, this did not appear
to be true for those already suffering from mild cognitive impairment.
Conference experts also reported that the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension
diet (DASH) was associated with higher scores for cognitive functioning.
The researchers found that four food categories from the DASH diet plan — whole
grains, vegetables, low-fat dairy foods, and nuts and beans — may offer
benefits for cognition in later life.
It is the opinion of the medical community that maintaining or increasing physical
activity throughout life may slow cognitive decline.
“There’s a strong and credible association between heart health and
brain health,” stated Maria Carrillo, Ph.D., director of Medical & Scientific
Relations at the Alzheimer’s Association.
“If people learn about and do some simple lifestyle modifications, such
as being more physically active and eating a brain-healthy diet, it could have
an enormous impact on our nation’s public health and the cost of health
care,” said Carillo.
Other topics discussed at the conference included diagnosing and treating mild
cognitive impairment — a research category used to define the state between
normal aging and Alzheimer’s that is now being used widely in clinical
practice — and successful strategies for Alzheimer’s clinical trials.
For more information about ICAD 2009, visit the Alzheimer’s Association
Web site at www.alz.org.
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