2013 Alzheimer’s Conference Ends

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The annual Alzheimer’s Association International Conference held this year in Boston has ended. It attracted 5,000 researchers, clinicians and providers from around the world, who shared the outcomes from the past year’s research. Here is a brief overview of the major findings from this conference:

Past drug trials have failed to live up to expectations  At last year’s international conference, it was anticipated that at least one of the Phase 3 clinical trials would result in a new drug to treat Alzheimer’s.  Unfortunately, the trials failed. Eli Lilly’s drug, solanezumab, showed some promise for those with mild cognitive impairment. Lilly has announced that it will launch a new Phase 3 trial to test this drug on people with mild cognitive impairment.

New drug trials are in very early stages and will take several years to complete.  Some of these trials continue to focus on reducing amyloid beta protein, which cause plaques to form in the brain. Other studies are focused on steroids that will produce new nerve cells to replace those damaged by the disease, and a diabetes drug that may reduce the risk of developing dementia.

Deferring retirement and working longer is linked to lower incidence of dementia. A French study of over 400,000 self-employed people showed that those who continued to work past the traditional age for retirement had a lower risk of developing dementia. The study corrected for people who may have retired earlier due to the onset of dementia.

On line tests that purport to measure cognitive strength are unreliable.  The researchers found that these tests fail to identify some with cognitive decline, and falsely identify others as having cognitive impairment when they do not.

European studies project lower rates of Alzheimer’s than previously projected.  There were several studies conducted in Europe reported in The Lancet this week which showed fewer new cases of dementia than had been projected.  Researchers are attributing the lower levels of newly reported disease to higher levels of education, and better overall health of the population, especially lower cholesterol levels and better control of blood pressure.

Subjective reporting of people who think they are declining mentally are accurate predictors of future cognitive decline.  Several studies reported that people who tested well on mini-mental tests, but who sensed that their cognition is slipping. Over the course of the next six years, this group was more likely than their peers who did not sense any mental decline to develop cognitive impairment.

The research community needs help from people who want to cure Alzheimer’s.  Clinical trials are slowed by the difficulty in enrolling  the necessary numbers of subjects. In particular need are people who are currently asymptomatic. Researchers are also slowed by the lack of funding. The amount of funding earmarked for Alzheimer’s disease is a fraction of the amount of funding given to the study of other diseases. People are encouraged to speak to their government representatives to educate them on the need to find a cure for Alzheimer’s.

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