Five key findings emerge from Alzheimer’s Assn. Conference

Press Staff Writer

        Research presented at the recent Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC) 2021 suggests COVID-19 is associated with long-term cognitive dysfunction and acceleration of Alzheimer’s disease pathology and symptoms.
        These studies were among several pieces of groundbreaking research featured at AAIC. Nearly 12,000 attendees, both in-person and virtual, joined the conference – the world’s largest and most influential international meeting dedicated to advancing dementia science.
        Conference findings include:
        • Long-term cognitive impact of COVID-19. With over 4 million deaths worldwide, COVID-19 has especially impacted older, vulnerable populations, including people living with Alzheimer’s and other dementia.  Initial data presented at AAIC 2021 suggest older adults may suffer lasting cognitive impairment after recovery from COVID-19 infection. As these symptoms persist for many, researchers are working to understand why, and what this may mean for long-term cognitive health. One study conducted over six months in nearly 300 older adults from Argentina who had COVID-19 found more than half had continuing problems with forgetfulness, and 25% had additional problems with cognition. These difficulties were also associated with an enduring lack of smell.
        The takeaway – While researchers work to understand the long-term impacts of COVID-19 on our bodies and brains, the “take home” message to protect cognition is simple: don’t contract COVID-19. The best way to avoid getting COVID is to get vaccinated.
        If you do contract the virus, it’s especially important to take care of your cardiovascular health. If you have been infected with COVID, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re at an increased risk for dementia or Alzheimer’s. If you are experiencing symptoms such as “brain fog” or memory loss, you should talk with your doctor.
        • Improved air quality may decrease dementia risk. Multiple studies presented during AAIC 2021 are the first to suggest that reducing pollution is associated with lower risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. When looking at air quality over time, findings include:
        - Reduction of fine particulate matter and traffic-related pollutants over 10 years was associated with 14% and 26% reductions, respectively, in dementia risk in older U.S. women. 
        - Long-term exposure to air pollutants was associated with higher beta amyloid levels in the blood, showing a possible biological connection between air quality and physical brain changes that define Alzheimer’s disease.
        The takeaway – Researchers know that air pollution is bad for our health — including our brains. This new data indicates that improving air quality may actually reduce the risk for dementia. 
        • Transgender adults experience higher rates of subjective cognitive decline. The first dementia prevalence data for U.S. lesbian, gay and bisexual individuals was reported at AAIC 2018, and researchers have since explored experiences of cognitive decline and dementia in these and other LGBTQ communities. Nonetheless, little is known about the intersection of gender identity and cognition, and AAIC 2021 included some of the first-ever reports of cognitive changes in transgender individuals (those who identify with a gender different than the one assigned to them at birth) and gender nonbinary individuals (those who identify outside the male/female binary).
        The takeaway – More research is needed to understand cognition in the transgender and nonbinary communities, and all sexual orientations and gender expressions. The Alzheimer’s Association has partnered with SAGE (Advocacy & Services for LGBT Elders) to help support LGBTQ community members living with Alzheimer’s or other dementias, and their caregivers.
        • Global prevalence of Alzheimer’s predicted to triple by 2050. According to the World Health Organization, more than 50 million people are living with dementia worldwide. Now, new data presented at AAIC 2021 forecasts global dementia prevalence will triple to 152 million by 2050.
        Without effective treatments, this number will only continue to grow, creating an unsustainable burden on families and health care systems. While positive global trends in education access are expected to decrease dementia prevalence worldwide by 6.2 million cases, upward trends in smoking, high body mass index (BMI) and high blood sugar are predicted to increase prevalence by nearly the same number — 6.8 million. 
        Other statistics reported at AAIC 2021 provide new insight into global rates of younger onset Alzheimer’s, and differences in regional U.S. mortality rates due to Alzheimer’s:
        - Each year, an estimated 10 in every 100,000 individuals develop dementia with early onset (prior to age 65). This corresponds to 350,000 new cases of early onset dementia per year, globally.
        - From 1999 to 2019, the U.S. mortality rate from Alzheimer’s in the overall population increased from 16 to 30 deaths per 100,000, an 88% increase. 
        - Among all areas of the U.S., mortality rates for Alzheimer’s were highest in rural areas in the East South-Central region of the U.S., where the death rate from Alzheimer’s is 274 per 100,000 in those over 65.
        The takeaway – While new analysis shows a decrease in prevalence due to education, it is countered by the increase due to heart health risk factors. Researchers must continue to work toward effective treatments to stop, slow or prevent Alzheimer’s and all dementia, or this number will only grow and continue to impact individuals, caregivers, health systems and governments on a global scale. 
        • Clinical trial diversity is crucial. A major hurdle in developing treatments for Alzheimer’s disease that work for people of all backgrounds is the recruitment and retention of underrepresented groups into clinical trials. Minorities have historically been left out of clinical Alzheimer’s research – in fact, all clinical research – and these are the very populations at a higher risk for developing Alzheimer’s. 
        The takeaway – Simply put, diversity is crucial to the success of clinical trials. The Alzheimer’s Association supports the bipartisan Equity in Neuroscience and Alzheimer’s Clinical Trials (ENACT) Act, legislation introduced to increase the participation of underrepresented populations in dementia clinical trials by expanding education and outreach to these populations. 
        Today, the Alzheimer’s Association is leading the way with two clinical trials that focus on diverse participation. The New IDEAS study is recruiting 2,000 Latinos/Hispanics and 2,000 Blacks/African Americans to investigate the impact of a brain amyloid PET scan on clinical care outcomes. The U.S. Study to Protect Brain Health Through Lifestyle Intervention to Reduce Risk (U.S. POINTER), is a two-year clinical trial studying the effects of multi-component lifestyle
interventions on risk of cognitive decline in a diverse population in the U.S. 
        Read more about all the findings from AAIC 2021 at As the largest, private, non-profit funder of Alzheimer’s and dementia research, the Alzheimer’s Association leads, convenes and accelerates research in order to create a world without Alzheimer’s and other dementias.


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