By Nalini Sen, Director, Alzheimer Society Research Program
I had the opportunity to attend this year’s annual Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC) in London, UK. This conference brings together some of the world’s leading researchers and clinicians in dementia treatment, detection and prevention. And with a record number of presentations—3300 in all—I have to admit, I was awestruck. Here are a few takeaways I would like to share with you:
Stress can age your brain
How we manage stress is even more important than was previously thought. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin studied 1320 people who had experienced stressful events like losing a job, getting a divorce or grieving the death of a family member. What did they find? A single stressful experience can age your brain by four years! Their findings reaffirm that healthy lifestyle habits matter.
Your brain needs a good night rest
Getting good sleep is as important as getting enough sleep. In a 516-person study, researchers from Wheaton College found greater instances of beta amyloid deposits in the brains of those with sleep disordered breathing and noticed that these deposits accumulated faster over time. Sleep disordered breathing is common. It includes hypopnea (under breathing) and apnea (not breathing) during sleep. While researchers need to do more investigative work, if we can better treat these sleep disorders, we may be able to reduce the risk of dementia or possibly delay the progression of the disease where it has already occurred.
Other presentations at AAIC reported on advancements in diagnosing dementia, which is a complicated and often a long process:
PET brain scans can improve diagnosis
For example, researchers from Sweden reported a 68 per cent increase in dementia diagnoses when PET brain scans were used in a small test sample of 135 people with memory problems. PET scans help identify whether amyloid plaques, the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease, are present in the brain. It does this by injecting a special dye with radioactive tracers into the arm which is then and absorbed by the organs and tissues.
Steps closer to a dementia blood test
In another study, Washington University researchers were able to measure amyloid beta in the cerebrospinal fluid (a fluid in the brain) with 89 per cent accuracy. Amyloid beta and tau protein which accumulate in the brain are triggers for Alzheimer’s disease. While more study is needed, a blood test for dementia may soon become available. This kind of test could identify those at risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease even years before symptoms appear.
One thing was clear at this year’s AAIC conference: Researchers around the world are working diligently to find a cure and identify new ways of diagnosing dementia earlier. And while they continue their search, there is now even more evidence that we can take steps to reduce our risk of developing dementia by living a healthier lifestyle.
Learn more about what you can do to keep your brain healthy at alzheimer.ca/brainhealth.
Did you know that of the 564,000 Canadians with dementia, 60% will go missing or become lost at some point? These men and women are more than just a number.
And so are you. You have the power to be the one who makes an impact.
By making a donation today, you can help fund dementia research initiatives and support vital programs for people with dementia and their families. With your support, we can help people like Margaret and her son David.
Here is Margaret’s story:
By Alex Westman
My wife Donna and I met when we were just teenagers—she was 18, I was 16. Despite our youth, we understood early on that we had a deep connection. It was an amazing thing, really, and still is. There was magic in her and she saw something in me. I had a reputation as a bit of a scrapper, but she soon took care of that.
These days, I’m almost respectable. I’m a three-term municipal councillor in the Township of Lucan Biddulph, Ontario, and a 30-year veteran of the fire department. She made me who I am, and all these years later, Donna is still the love of my life.
Why am I telling you this? Because I want you to know that the love we share is the armour we wear when things get tough. And in 2009, things got really tough.
That was the year she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. She was 47. I remember sitting beside her in the chair in the doctor’s office. I looked at her, and she looked at me, and I said, “we’ll get through this together.” And we have.
We’ve had help, of course. Donna’s sister Gale and our daughter Sara-Beth have been nothing short of amazing; their love for Donna shines through in everything they do for her.
My point, as I’m sure you are beginning to see, is that you can’t do this without love. This disease is big. It has teeth, and horns and claws. If we didn’t have love, this disease would destroy us both.
Now I don’t want you to think I live in some fantasy land. We’ve had our ups and downs. We’ve gone to marriage counselling. There were times we didn’t particularly like each other. But we always loved each other and we always knew we wanted to make it work.
I remember vividly the spring following Donna’s diagnosis when we planted forget-me-not flowers in her garden. The garden has always been a special place where she tended to each plant as if it were the only one. The year before, we had planted daffodils for my parents who died of cancer. This spring, we wanted forget-me-nots for Donna.
When we finished, we stood back to admire our work. She put her head on my shoulder and I said, “It’s OK, sweetie. I’ll remember our life together for both of us.”
It can start with something simple, like having trouble following your favourite recipe, or putting your car keys in the fridge. Maybe you’ve noticed small changes in your memory that are affecting how you do things day-to-day.
If you can’t quite remember things that should be straightforward for you, or if you notice changes in your mood or ability to communicate, make an appointment to see your family doctor right away.
Diagnosing dementia is a complex and difficult process. The first thing your doctor will do is try to rule out if it’s a treatable condition, like depression or even an infection.
Be prepared to start the conversation with your doctor:
- Take the time to review the 10 warning signs of dementia. This is important because dementia is not a normal part of aging, nor is memory loss the only symptom.
- Jot down the signs you’ve been noticing in yourself. When did these start? Have they changed over time? This information will keep your conversation focused.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions! Ask your doctor if your symptoms could be caused by another health condition.
- Be sure to let him or her know about your medical history, including any medications you’re currently taking.
- Ask your doctor to explain what tests you’ll need and how long these will take.
- Will you need to see a specialist or a series of specialists? How will you need to prepare for these visits?
For more tips on getting ready for your doctor’s visit, download our Getting a diagnosis toolkit. It offers a whole list of questions to ask as well as detailed information about the warning signs and what you can expect during the diagnosis process.
And, if you’re concerned about someone else, we encourage you to pass our toolkit along.
Getting an early diagnosis helps you and your family take control of the situation, plan for future and live as well as possible with dementia. Learn more about the benefits of an early diagnosis
On Thursday, April 27th, 2017, Ontario Finance Minister, Charles Sousa, introduced the 2017 Ontario Budget, A Stronger, Healthier Ontario, which included $100 million over three years for the implementation of an Ontario dementia strategy. This is in addition to the $20 million investment for improving respite care for unpaid care partners that was announced earlier in the week.
This is a major win for the over 220,000 Ontarians and their families who have been impacted by dementia!
The Alzheimer Society of Ontario commends Premier Wynne, Minister Sousa and Minister Hoskins for making dementia a priority in Ontario and investing to enhance care and support for people living with dementia and those who care for them.
The Alzheimer Society strongly believes that a fully-funded and comprehensive strategy is the best solution to ensuring that Ontarians with dementia have the resources they need to live well in their homes and in their communities for as long as possible, and to ensure that their care partners and families are wholly supported.
Thank you to all of our dedicated supporters and allies without whom yesterday’s announcement for a fully-funded provincial dementia strategy may not have been realized.
Stay tuned for more, great dementia strategy news and updates!
Read the Alzheimer Society of Ontario’s press release to respond to the 2017 Budget announcement.
Did you know that over 210,000 people in Ontario are living with dementia? That over 564,000 Canadians are affected by Alzheimer’s disease or dementia today? We all know, or know of, someone affected by this disease. They are our neighbours, our friends, our grandparents and our uncles. They are someone in our life, and they are more than just a number.
You can be that one to make a difference in the lives of those affected by dementia. By donating today, you can help fund research to find treatments, and even a cure, for this disease. You can help fund programs that support people with dementia and their caregivers, and help improve quality of life.
For people like Amir, your support means the world.
Here is his story:
Hadir AlQot aims to further our knowledge and understanding of the complex mechanisms underlying Alzheimer’s disease. Specifically, she aims to investigate a novel aspect of the cholinergic system and its vulnerability in Alzheimer’s disease in relation to key pathological features and cognitive decline. Hadir AlQot is doctoral student at the University of Western Ontario.
It is my hope that this research will help unravel potential novel therapeutic targets for Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.
Biomedical Doctoral Award Recipient in Alzheimer’s disease and dementia – $66,000
Project: The functional role of nuclear 82-kDa ChAT in APP metabolism and its potential neuroprotective significance
Read about more of our grant and award recipients here.