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Sorting Through the Promise of Alzheimer's Research


Greetings from the National Alliance for Caregiving!  Last week I participated in a very interesting panel on Preventing Alzheimer's and Cognitive Decline.  It was a pleasure for me to meet and confer with expert academics and clinicians on' this emerging field of research.

Our presentation was on Wednesday morning and was designed to review and respond to research that had presented on previous days.  Our job was to sort through what we had learned and lift out some key highlights as well as make recommendations for future work.  In some ways, much like what each of us have to do when we are confronted with weighing the treatment options and decisions that face us if we have a new diagnosis or are helping a loved one sort through these choices.

We were' excited at the prospect of sharing our ideas with the other attendees and hopeful that our discussion would help inform the public too.  We concurred with one another that the research presented, while promising in some instances, was inconclusive about whether' Alzheimer's and cognitive decline were actually being prevented.

In order to make any strong statements regarding factors contributing to Alzheimer's or cognitive decline, we noted that there have to be more in-depth studies.  The most interesting studies on prevention we learned about involved: 1) the intake of omega-3 fatty acids; 2) anti-hypertension' medications; and' 3) cognitive engagement, so we encouraged the continuation and proliferation of these efforts.

We also noted that the research indicated that certain chronic diseases and everyday activities may be associated with increased risk of Alzheimer's and cognitive decline, including diabetes, depression, smoking, and high fat intake.  The ApoE4 protein may pose some genetic risk.  Moreover since the Duke lit review held up' randomly controlled trials (RCTs) as the gold standard for evidence-- but' so few of the studies presented were true RCTs with big enough sample sizes, we further emphasized the need to improve the research to make solid conclusions.

Interesting possibilities worth more exploration are: 1) to what extent computer 'brain games' can help in preventing cognitive decline 2) the impact of light to moderate alcohol intake, and 3) adopting a version of the "Mediterranean diet".  We also recommended that research groups and clinicians collaborate to develop clear and' objective measures for basic cognitive function and then changes over time.  Finally, we recommended establishing a national Alzheimer's' registry, modeled on existing registries for cancer.

After hearing the responses from the Wed morning audience and' email submissions made possible via webcast, we made minor changes to our statement and held a press briefing .  We were very pleased to be picked up by the Wall Street Journal, Reuters, the LA Times, and the Health Day on-line website, among others.  The next morning driving to work I was thrilled to hear an NPR' piece on the briefing.'  Our participation in the panel and our work making informed health and health care decisions'.as researchers, as caregivers and even as potential patients continues.

More Blog Posts by Gail Hunt

author bio

Gail Hunt is president and CEO of the National Alliance for Caregiving, a nonprofit coalition dedicated to conducting research and developing national programs for family caregivers and the professionals who serve them. She is also on the Board of Commissioners for the Center for Aging Service Technology, the steering committee for Long-Term Care Quality Assurance, and the Governing Board of the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI). She is a member of CFAH’s Board of Trustees

Tags for this article:
Alzheimers Disease/Dementia   Gail Hunt   Aging Well  

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Star says
May 6, 2010 at 10:49 AM

Great post! I thought this little sleeper story of a week or so ago was significant...