Alzheimer’s International Conference Goes Digital, Garners Record Attendance

CHICAGO, IL — Held digitally this year due to the pandemic, the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC)—the world’s largest gathering of researchers focused on Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias—garnered record attendance last week with more than 32,000 attendees from more than 160 countries, including representatives from the Alzheimer’s Association of Greater New Jersey (AAGNJ).

Each year, the AAIC serves as a catalyst for generating new knowledge about dementia and fostering a vital, collegial research community. This year’s digital event, held in late July, featured thousands of scientific presentations, standouts of which included presentations on:

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  • How influenza and pneumonia vaccinations are tied to lower risk of Alzheimer’s;
  • How a simple blood test would be a great advance for individuals with or at high risk for the disease;
  • Which risk factors for Alzheimer’s dementia may be apparent in adolescents and young adults; and
  • How COVID-19 has affected Alzheimer’s patients as well as nursing homes and assisted living communities.

“The data presented at AAIC this year reflects the diversity of approaches being used and the new avenues of research being pursued to provide better treatments for the millions of people living with Alzheimer’s and other dementias,” said AAGNJ Executive Director Cheryl Ricci-Francione. “Every step forward strengthens the Alzheimer’s Association’s vision of a world without Alzheimer’s. Every stride forward brings us closer to achieving that goal. Together, we can advance critical research and raise awareness and funds to enhance Alzheimer’s care and support.”

New Research Shows Flu, Pneumonia Vaccinations May Lower Risk of Alzheimer’s Dementia

According to new research reported at the AAIC, flu (influenza) and pneumonia vaccinations are associated with reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

Three research studies reported last week suggest the following:

  • At least one flu vaccination was associated with a 17-percent reduction in Alzheimer’s incidence. More 
frequent flu vaccination was associated with another 13-percent reduction in Alzheimer’s incidence.
  • Vaccination against pneumonia between ages 65 and 75 reduced Alzheimer’s risk by up to 40 percent 
depending on individual genes.
  • Individuals with dementia have a higher risk of dying (six-fold) after infections than those without 
dementia (three-fold). People living with dementia commonly experience other health conditions including viral, bacterial, and other infections.

Alzheimer’s Association chief science officer Maria Carrillo, Ph.D., explained that vaccines are currently at the forefront of public health discussions due to the COVID-19 pandemic and that it is “important to explore their benefit in not only protecting against viral or bacterial infection but also improving long-term health outcomes.”

“It may turn out to be as simple as if you’re taking care of your health in this way—getting vaccinated—you’re also taking care of yourself in other ways, and these things add up to lower risk of Alzheimer’s and other dementias,” said Carrillo. “This research, while early, calls for further studies in large, diverse clinical trials to inform whether vaccinations as a public health strategy decrease our risk for developing dementia as we age.”

In addition to the research summarized above, recent studies also determined that it is too early to tell if getting vaccinated for flu or pneumonia on its own can reduce risk of Alzheimer’s. For example, it’s possible that people who are getting vaccinated also take care of their health in other ways, and these things add up to lower risk of Alzheimer’s and other dementias, according to the AAIC presentation.

Blood Biomarkers for Tau Protein Could Be a Step Closer to Prevention

As of today, there is no simple or inexpensive test to confirm Alzheimer’s that is also noninvasive and easily available, such as a blood test. According to last week’s AAIC presentation, a blood test is needed because it could help identify people for clinical trials and also improve “how we track the impact of a therapy being tested.”

Scientists at the 2020 AAIC reported results of multiple studies on advances in blood “tests” for abnormal versions of the tau protein, one of which they said may be able to detect changes in the brain 20 years before dementia symptoms occur. In particular, the reports focus on a specific form of tau known as “p-tau217,” which scientists said appears to be the most specific to Alzheimer’s and the earliest to show measurable changes.

“There is an urgent need for simple, inexpensive, non-invasive and easily available diagnostic tools for Alzheimer’s,” said Carrillo. “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.”

There is currently a global effort in the Alzheimer’s field to identify and develop accurate, less expensive diagnostic tools for Alzheimer’s and the other dementias. Scientists at this year’s AAIC stated that these new reports are encouraging, but reiterated that these are early results and that they do not know how long it will be until these tests are available for clinical use.

Blood tests have emerged in the last few years as a potential solution, with many research groups around the world working to identify and verify tests that can detect markers in the blood that correspond with dementia-related changes in the brain.

Public Support and Participation Leads to Change

New Jerseyans can help accelerate change by registering to participate in one of seven upcoming Walks to End Alzheimer’s, being held digitally this year due to the pandemic. Visit alz.org/walk to learn more, donate or to register for one of the events.