September is World Alzheimer’s Month and a time to better understand the complications and difficulties that patients and their caregivers face daily. Additionally, it is an important time to learn more about the significant advancements and findings in global research.
The 2020 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC) featured over 33,000 virtual registrants from over 160 countries, enabling the widest reach and breadth to date for shared learning and scientific dementia studies and findings.
One of the most significant breakthroughs at this year’s conference was a new test that may be able to detect changes in the brain 20 years before dementia symptoms occur.
Through more than 3,000 presentations, scientists reported results of multiple studies on advances in blood tests for abnormal versions of the tau protein, one of which may be able to detect changes in the brain 20 years before dementia symptoms occur. The reports focused on a specific form of tau known as p-tau217, which seems to be the most specific to Alzheimer’s and the earliest to show measurable changes. The new test proved remarkably accurate in a study of 1,402 people from three different groups in Sweden, Colombia and the United States.
In current medical protocol, the brain changes that occur before Alzheimer’s dementia symptoms appear can only be reliably assessed by positron-emission tomography (PET) scans, and from measuring amyloid and tau proteins in spinal fluid (CSF). These methods are expensive and invasive. And, too often, they are unavailable because they are not covered by insurance, are difficult to access, or both. Blood tests that measure abnormal versions of the tau protein may–if verified through further research–diagnose Alzheimer’s dementia without additional confirmation.
Alzheimer’s Association Chief Science Officer Maria C. Carrillo, Ph.D., said in a statement, “There is an urgent need for simple, inexpensive, non-invasive, and easily available diagnostic tools for Alzheimer’s. New testing technologies could also support drug development in many ways. For example, by helping identify the right people for clinical trials, and by tracking the impact of therapies being tested. The possibility of early detection and being able to intervene with a treatment before significant damage to the brain from Alzheimer’s disease would be game changing for individuals, families and our healthcare system.”
A stronger case was also made regarding potential behavioral interventions and lifestyle modifications that are associated with a lower risk of Alzheimer’s. Included in the presentations were expanded findings regarding decreased risk of dementias through lower early-life BMI and even suggestions that flu (influenza) and pneumonia vaccinations may change the course of progression.
Other new data reported at the conference showed that health risk factors such as high blood pressure, diabetes and being overweight—as early as adolescence—can influence late-life memory and cognition, especially in African Americans. Higher quality early-life education is associated with better language and memory performance and lower risk of late-life dementia. The association can differ between men and women and between Black and white individuals.
While much of the material presented at the conference is still in the research phase, the 3,000+ presentations contribute to our overall understanding of this disease that afflicts an estimated 5.7 million Americans. If your loved one has been diagnosed with a form of dementia and you would like to understand care options to help them live safely, Oasis Senior Advisors may be able to help. Give us a call at 888-455-5838 for a free, no-obligation consultation.
To learn more and to stay up to date on accelerating global research behind lowering risk and early detection, visit the Alzheimer’s Association website at alz.org or call 1-800-272-3900.