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AAIC 2017 reveals great strides in research

AAIC 2017 reveals great strides in research

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

Racing for memories

Racing for memories

Recently, my family has joined the unfortunate ranks of those who have been impacted by Alzheimer’s disease. My mom started showing early signs of the disease a few years ago, and it has slowly and stubbornly progressed ever since. The toll that Alzheimer’s is taking on my mom is obvious and devastating. Less obvious, but just as significant, is the impact it is having on my dad. As my mom’s primary caregiver, it’s been said that my dad must ride the world’s tallest, fastest and scariest emotional roller coaster each and every day. Sadly, in my observation, this is absolutely true.

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Announcing the top 10 Canadian dementia research priorities

Announcing the top 10 Canadian dementia research priorities

[Le texte en français suit l’anglais ci-bas.]

By Drs. Katherine McGilton and Jennifer Bethell

Over the course of the past year, we asked Canadians affected by dementia—either personally or through their work—for their unanswered questions about living with dementia, dementia prevention, treatment and diagnosis. This study, also known as the Canadian Dementia Priority Setting Partnership, set out to identify the top 10 dementia research priorities, and to share them with Canadian researchers and research funding organizations.

We thank the over 1200 participants who shared their insights. Thousands of questions were submitted and the shortlist was debated at an in-person workshop, held in Toronto on June 8-9, 2017.

Canadian Dementia Priority Setting Partnership workshop,
June 8-9, 2017, in Toronto

The workshop brought together 28 participants from across Canada—persons with dementia, family members, health and social care providers and members of organizations that represent persons with dementia. Participants worked in small teams and as a group to discuss each question and decide what matters most to them.

Here are the top 10 dementia research priorities, according to Canadians affected by dementia:

Top 10 dementia research priorities

The Alzheimer Society Research Program will use these results to help bring the voices of Canadians affected by dementia into the research agenda. These priorities will also be shared with researchers and other research-funding organizations in hopes of stimulating more research in these areas.

The Canadian Dementia Priority Setting Partnership was funded by the Alzheimer Society Research Program as part of the Alzheimer Society’s commitment to the Canadian Consortium on Neurodegeneration in Aging (CCNA). Special thanks to our Steering Group and partner organizations for their involvement and assistance in the study.


Par les Dres Katherine McGilton et Jennifer Bethell

Au cours de la dernière année, nous avons demandé aux Canadiens touchés par une maladie cognitive, soit personnellement ou dans le cadre de leur travail, de faire part de leurs questions sans réponses sur la vie avec une maladie cognitive, la prévention, le traitement et le diagnostic. Cette étude, aussi connu sous le nom du Partenariat canadien pour l’établissement des priorités sur les maladies cognitives, visait à identifier les priorités de recherche à l’intention des chercheurs et des organismes de financement.

Nous remercions les plus de 1 200 participants qui ont partagé leurs points de vue. Des milliers de questions ont été soumises et la liste présélectionnée a été débattu lors d’un atelier en personne qui a eu lieu à Toronto les 8 et 9 juin 2017.

Atelier du Partenariat canadien pour l’établissement des priorités sur les maladies cognitives, le 8 et 9 jun 2017 à Toronto

L’atelier a mis à contribution 28 participants de tout le Canada, dont des personnes atteintes d’une maladie cognitive, des aidants familiaux, des fournisseurs de soins de santé et de services sociaux, et des membres d’organisations qui représentent des personnes atteintes d’une maladie cognitive. Les participants ont discuté au sein de petites équipes et en commun de chacune des questions afin de décider ce qui est important pour eux.

Voici les 10 priorités de recherche les plus importantes selon les Canadiens touchés par une maladie cognitive :

Priorités de recherche sur les maladies cognitives

Le Programme de recherche de la Société Alzheimer utilisera ces résultats pour faire entendre la voix des Canadiens touchés par les maladies cognitives dans les futures décisions en ce qui a trait à la recherche. Ces priorités seront également transmises aux chercheurs et aux autres organismes de financement dans l’espoir de stimuler la recherche dans ces domaines de prédilection.

Le Partenariat canadien pour l’établissement des priorités sur les maladies cognitives a été financé par le Programme de recherche de la Société Alzheimer dans le cadre de son engagement envers le Consortium canadien en neurodégénérescence associée au vieillissement (CCNV). Nous remercions tout particulièrement notre groupe d’orientation et les organisations partenaires pour leur participation et contribution à cette etude.

Getting a dementia diagnosis – where do you start?

Getting a dementia diagnosis – where do you start?

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.

By finding out what is causing your symptoms, you can get the right kind of care, support and access to treatments as early as possible.

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

It’s not always Alzheimer’s: One couple’s story of getting the ‘right’ diagnosis

It’s not always Alzheimer’s: One couple’s story of getting the ‘right’ diagnosis

David, a kind, quiet and intelligent man, connected to his family, with lots of friends, and very active in his community, started to become withdrawn and apathetic. His wife Wendy knew something wasn’t quite right.

The Hughes sought help early, but much time passed before they found out that David has Lewy body dementia.

Wendy became an advocate for her life partner. David was initially diagnosed with Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. As she did more research, she wondered about the symptoms. David’s memory loss fluctuated, rather than declined. And what Wendy noticed most was not so much memory loss, but that his personality had changed significantly.

After several years of persistence, David was finally diagnosed with Lewy body dementia.

Their story is a reminder that getting a diagnosis can be a long and uncertain process. Know the symptoms of dementia. Get help as soon as possible. And play an active role in seeking out the best health care options for you and your family.

David’s new status came as somewhat of a relief for the couple and Wendy continues to learn as much as she can about Lewy body. Now they have access to the right treatments and support, and she and David can get on with their lives.

“You can’t do this on your own, and I’ve realized it’s perfectly okay to ask for help,” says Wendy. She has reached out to her local Alzheimer Society (Hamilton Halton) and made a point to seek out new friends. Socializing gives her a much-needed break and allows her to better care for David.

Each year 25,000 Canadians are diagnosed with dementia. Wendy believes everyone needs to learn more about Alzheimer’s and other dementias-“awareness can only lead to better understanding and acceptance of this disease.”

This January, you too can make a difference. It’s not just their disease. It’s ours too. #InItForAlz



Wendy & David Hughes
David est un homme sympathique, calme et intelligent. Il a toujours été attaché à sa famille et fidèle à ses amis. Lui qui était si actif socialement, il a commencé à devenir renfermé et apathique. Sa femme, Wendy, a su que quelque chose n’allait pas.

Les Hughes ont rapidement été cherchés de l’aide, mais beaucoup de temps s’est écoulé avant de découvrir que David était atteint de la maladie à corps de Lewy.

Wendy a pris fait et cause pour son compagnon de vie. David a tout d’abord reçu un diagnostic de Parkinson et de maladie d’Alzheimer. Au fil de ses recherches, Wendy a commencé à douter. La mémoire de David subissait des fluctuations plutôt qu’un déclin. Mais, par-dessus tout, ce n’était pas tant sa mémoire qui était en cause, mais sa personnalité qui avait énormément changé.

Après plusieurs années d’attente, la maladie à corps de Lewy a finalement été diagnostiquée à David.

Leur histoire nous rappelle que le diagnostic est parfois établi à la suite d’un processus long et incertain. Informez-vous sur les symptômes des maladies cognitives. Obtenez de l’aide aussitôt que possible. Et jouez un rôle actif dans la recherche des meilleures options de soins de santé pour vous et votre famille.

Le couple a accueilli avec un certain soulagement le nouveau statut de David. Pour sa part, Wendy continue de se renseigner le plus possible sur la maladie à corps de Lewy. Ils ont maintenant accès à des traitements adéquats et à du soutien, et ils peuvent poursuivre leur vie.

« Vous ne pouvez pas tout faire par vous-même et j’ai réalisé qu’il est parfaitement acceptable de demander de l’aide », déclare Wendy. Elle a communiqué avec sa Société Alzheimer locale (Hamilton Halton) et s’est promis de se faire de nouveaux amis. Le fait de socialiser lui donne le répit dont elle a tant besoin et lui permet de mieux prendre soin de David.

Chaque année 25 000 Canadiens reçoivent un diagnostic de maladie cognitive. Wendy croit que tout le monde devrait s’informer sur la maladie d’Alzheimer et les maladies apparentées. « Être bien renseigné nous aide à mieux comprendre et à accepter ces maladies. »

En janvier, vous pouvez vous aussi apporter votre contribution. Parce que ces maladies ne concernent pas seulement les personnes atteintes, elles nous concernent tous. #TousContreAlz.

Introducing the 2015 Alzheimer Society Research Program (ASRP) Community Representatives / Des représentants de la collectivité participent au Programme de recherche de la Société Alzheimer (PRSA)

Introducing the 2015 Alzheimer Society Research Program (ASRP) Community Representatives / Des représentants de la collectivité participent au Programme de recherche de la Société Alzheimer (PRSA)

This year the Alzheimer Society celebrates 27 years of funding research through the Alzheimer Society Research Program (ASRP). The peer review panel meetings were held in February 2015 in Toronto, Ontario, and included the role of Community Representatives.

Community Representatives are members of the general public who are not currently involved with research who are given the opportunity to comment on the intent, purpose and on the clarity of the language used within the lay summaries of research applications that are received by the Society. Their involvement in peer review serves as a mechanism for public accountability by providing feedback on the ASRP peer review process.

It is with great pleasure that we introduce our 2015 Community Representatives:

“I was given the chance to understand the peer review process and the Alzheimer society’s involvement in research when I reviewed as a community representative. Being a part of the process meant a lot to me. The different abstracts read were very helpful to me because it gave me hope about my husband who has MCI, some of which may help him someday.  Also, the doctors we met were all very professional and ethical, open and friendly. As a caregiver I found the peer review process to be a learning experience; I got to learn about interesting abstracts and research about MCI/Alzheimer’s disease/Dementia.

Funding research on Alzheimer’s disease and dementia is important to me because there is a need for early diagnosis, understanding the cause of Alzheimer’s and treatment for the different types of dementias. Hopefully my husband and children and others will benefit from this research.”

-Lydia Watts, 2015 Community Representative, Biomedical Peer Review Panel

Lydia is the primary caregiver to her husband, Bruce, who has Mild Cognitive Impairment. She is a retired medical technologist and now enjoys volunteering and her hobbies include beading and taking online courses.

“This has been a rewarding and interesting experience. It is encouraging to hear how much research and development there is to control the advancement and perhaps eventually cure this devastating disease. Everyone we met at this conference are very friendly, open and encouraging people all working together with a similar goal – to beat this disease and improve our quality of life. Having an opportunity to comment on the research left me feeling heard and understood for the input I was given the chance to offer.

As a person living with dementia I found the peer review process to be an important and worthwhile endeavour and time well spent.

Funding research on Alzheimer’s disease and dementia is important to me because research is finding a way to control and eventually cure Alzheimer’s and MCI is important now and for future generations.”

-Bruce Watts, 2015 Community Representative, Biomedical Peer Review Panel

Bruce is living with Mild Cognitive Impairment and is supported by his wife Lydia and family. He is a retired medical technologist. His hobbies include photography.


Gail“This has been a positive and encouraging experience. I am impressed with the variety of proposals and the thorough and detailed process used to make decisions. The discussions were clear and lively and people were patient yet challenging.

As a person living with dementia I found the peer review process to be encouraging and thorough.

Funding research on Alzheimer’s disease and dementia is important to me because I hope they will find a cure. As well it will provide different and new ways to deal with the disease. I am particularly interested in long term care.”

-Gail Reid, 2015 Community Representative, Quality of Life Peer Review Panel

Gail is living with Alzheimer’s disease. She formerly worked as a social worker, magazine editor and writer.


Sandi“I am honoured and pleased to play a small part on this panel.As a person living with dementia I found the peer review process to be very formative and interesting.

Funding research on Alzheimer’s disease and dementia is important to me because with the aging population there is a great need.”

-Sandi Matchett, 2015 Community Representative, Quality of Life Peer Review Panel

Sandi is living with dementia. She is a former graphic designer who enjoys water colour painting and playing tennis.


Le Programme de recherche de la Société Alzheimer finance la recherche depuis maintenant 27 ans. Des représentants de la collectivité ont participé aux réunions des comités d’évaluation par des pairs, qui ont eu lieu en février 2015 à Toronto (Ontario).

Les représentants de la collectivité sont des membres du grand public qui ne participent pas actuellement à la recherche. Ils donnent leurs commentaires sur les intentions et les objectifs des projets de recherche soumis et sur la clarté du langage utilisé dans les résumés simplifiés. Leur contribution au processus d’évaluation par des pairs fournit un mécanisme de reddition de comptes auprès du public.

Nous sommes très heureux de vous présenter nos représentants de la collectivité pour 2015.

« À titre de représentante de la collectivité, j’ai eu la chance de comprendre le fonctionnement du processus d’évaluation par des pairs et les modalités de participation de la Société Alzheimer à la recherche. Cela a été très important pour moi de participer à ce processus. Les divers résumés que j’ai lus m’ont donné beaucoup d’espoir pour mon mari qui est atteint d’un trouble cognitif léger. Certains des projets soumis pourraient un jour ou l’autre lui venir en aide. Tous les médecins que j’ai rencontrés ont fait preuve d’éthique et de professionnalisme, en plus d’être très ouverts et sympathiques. Le processus d’évaluation par des pairs m’a permis d’enrichir mes connaissances à titre d’aidante. J’ai appris beaucoup à la lecture des résumés de recherche sur les troubles cognitifs légers, la maladie d’Alzheimer et les maladies apparentées.

Le financement de la recherche sur l’Alzheimer et les maladies apparentées me tient à cœur. Il est important d’établir rapidement le diagnostic et de trouver les causes de ces maladies afin de mettre au point un traitement. J’espère que mon mari, mes enfants et d’autres personnes pourront en profiter »

– Lydia Watts, représentante de la collectivité, comité d’évaluation par les pairs, volet biomédical

Mme Watts est l’aidante principale de son mari, Bruce, atteint d’un trouble cognitif léger. Technologiste médicale à la retraite, elle aime faire du bénévolat, broder et suivre des cours en ligne.

“« Cette expérience a été très intéressante et très enrichissante. L’ampleur des recherches menées actuellement pour combattre et guérir cette terrible maladie m’a beaucoup encouragé. Au cours de cette conférence, nous avons rencontré des gens sympathiques, ouverts et encourageants, qui travaillent tous ensemble à la réalisation d’un même objectif , à savoir améliorer notre qualité de vie et vaincre cette maladie. Cette chance que j’ai eue d’émettre mes commentaires sur la recherche m’a donné le sentiment d’être entendu et compris. À titre de personne atteinte d’une maladie cognitive, ma participation au processus d’évaluation par des pairs a été pour moi une activité très gratifiante.

Si nous voulons combattre l’Alzheimer et les maladies apparentées et en arriver un jour à les vaincre, il est important de poursuivre le financement de la recherche pour les personnes atteintes aujourd’hui et pour les générations futures. »

-Bruce Watts, comité d’évaluation par les pairs 2015, volet biomédical

M. Watt, technologiste médical à la retraite, est atteint d’un trouble cognitif léger. Il bénéficie du soutien de sa femme Lydia et de sa famille.


Gail« Cette expérience a été positive et encourageante. Je suis impressionnée par la variété des projets soumis et le processus minutieux mis en place pour prendre les décisions. Les discussions étaient animées et intéressantes, exigeantes et stimulantes.

La recherche sur l’Alzheimer et les maladies apparentées est importante pour moi parce qu’elle nous permettra de trouver de nouveaux moyens de combattre ces maladies et de découvrir un remède. Je m’intéresse particulièrement aux soins de longue durée. »

-Gail Reid, représentante du public 2015, comité d’évaluation par des pairs, volet qualité de vie

Mme Reid, qui est atteinte de la maladie d’Alzheimer, a été travailleuse sociale, rédactrice en chef d’une revue et écrivaine.


« Je suis atteinte d’une maladie cognitive et je suis heureuse du petit rôle que je remplis au sein de ce comité.

Le processus d’évaluation par des pairs a pour moi été très formateur et très intéressant.

Le financement de la recherche sur l’Alzheimer et les maladies apparentées est important en raison des nouveaux besoins créés par le vieillissement de la population. »

-Sandi Matchett, comité d’évaluation par les pairs 2015, volet qualité de vie

Mme Matchett, représentante de la collectivité, est atteinte d’une maladie cognitive. Graphiste à la retraite, elle aime l’aquarelle et le tennis.