Early detection is key.
If you, a family member, or friend has Alzheimer’s, there are resources available to help. You can take steps to create a supportive environment and a sense of well-being as well.
Alzheimer’s is a brain disease that can cause gradual memory loss and difficulties with thinking, problem-solving or language. The symptoms worsen over time and can eventually even affect a person’s ability to recognize loved ones or perform simple tasks.
Although there is no known cure for Alzheimer’s, early detection leads to better outcomes in terms of treatment and management. Clinical studies are exploring potential treatments not only to help manage the symptoms, but also ideally to slow down progression of the disease. Read on to learn more.
If you or your loved one has Alzheimer’s, we would like to hear from you.
*If you are eligible and choose to participate, you will receive all study-related care and study medication at no cost during your participation. Compensation for study-related travel costs may also be provided.
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Causes & Risk Factors
What causes Alzheimer’s?
Researchers believe that a combination of genetic, lifestyle and environmental factors influence the onset of Alzheimer’s disease and how it progresses. It brings about a series of changes in the brain which, over time, lead to brain cells called neurons dying. These changes in the brain may start 20 years or more before symptoms develop. Researchers believe that early detection – even at the point of mild cognitive impairment – leads to a better outcome in terms of treatment and management.
Alzheimer’s and Dementia: A global concern
The challenge of Alzheimer’s and its burden on families, as well as communities and society, is ever-increasing. It is the leading cause of dementia – a broad term used to describe a deterioration in memory, thinking, behaviour and ability to perform everyday tasks. Worldwide, more than 47 million people have dementia, according to the World Health Organization. The majority of these (60-70%) have Alzheimer’s.
Since Dr Alois Alzheimer first identified the disease over 100 years ago, there is still no known way to slow or stop its progression. Clinical research has a vital role in understanding, preventing, diagnosing and treating the disease.
What are the key risk factors for Alzheimer’s?*
- Age is the biggest risk factor for Alzheimer’s. Most people who get it develop it after the age of 65, but people under this age can also develop it.
- Genetics also play a role for some people. Several genes have been shown to affect development of late-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Early-onset Alzheimer’s, which runs in families, can start to affect a person in their 30s or 40s.
- Lifestyle: Several studies have shown that an active lifestyle with proper diet and nutrition and other lifestyle factors – such as avoiding alcohol, smoking, etc. – can potentially help reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s. (See the ‘Brain Health’ section for suggestions for keeping the brain active.)
- Other health problems such as hypertension (high blood pressure), diabetes, stroke, high cholesterol, obesity, heart problems and depression have also been found to raise the risk of developing Alzheimer’s, especially having them in middle-age. It’s important to keep these under control and get professional support as early as possible.
*Source: Alzheimer’s Society
Diagnosis & Treatment
How is Alzheimer’s diagnosed?
Family doctors and specialists (such as neurologists, neuropsychologists, old age psychiatrists and geriatricians) use a variety of tests to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease and rule out other potential causes of dementia. These may include:*
- Medical history — the doctor or specialist will review your medical history, including psychiatric history and history of cognitive and behavioral changes, as well as any medical conditions affecting family members, such as Alzheimer’s or dementia. You will also be asked about any medications you are currently taking and lifestyle questions, such as your diet, how much you exercise and whether you drink alcohol or smoke.
- Neurological exam — the doctor or specialist will check your reflexes, muscle tone and strength, coordination, eye movement, speech and sensation.
- Mental status tests — for example, the MMSE (a questionnaire used to assess changes in mental status) or the Mini-cog (involving tasks such as drawing the face of a clock). Others may also be used to evaluate the effect of memory loss on activities of daily living or quality of life.
- Computer-based tests — used to assess thinking, learning and memory, sometimes in combination with other forms of mental assessments such as the MMSE.
- Mood assessment — to determine any overlapping mood disorders, such as depression, which may be causing similar symptoms.
- Genetic testing — helps determine if a person has inherited a genetic trait that increases the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Examples include Autosomal Dominant Alzheimer’s Disease (ADAD), or “familial Alzheimer’s,” a rare form of the disease that causes early onset of the disease; and APOE-e4, a genetic mutation that has been associated with a higher risk of Alzheimer’s.
- Blood tests and spinal fluid tests — to identify the buildup of certain proteins believed to play a role in the development of Alzheimer’s, such as beta-amyloid and tau. These proteins start accumulating 20 years or more before symptoms develop and have been identified as potential targets for drug development.
- Brain scans — such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT) are used to detect brain changes caused by Alzheimer’s. Positron emission tomography (PET) may be used by researchers to look at disease processes, such as areas of low metabolism or the effects of beta amyloid deposits or effects of neurofibrillary tangles of tau protein.
*Sources: Alzheimer’s Association; Mayo Clinic; NHS
How is Alzheimer’s treated?
Medications used to treat the symptoms of Alzheimer’s include:
- Acetylcholinesterase (AChE) inhibitors – which increase levels of acetylcholine, a substance in the brain that helps nerve cells communicate with each other (e.g., donepezil, galantamine and rivastigmine)
- Memantine – which blocks the effects of an excessive amount of a chemical in the brain called glutamate
- Other medications – such as antidepressants, to treat behavioural or mental problems that may arise in association with Alzheimer’s
Clinical trials are helping medical researchers better understand, diagnose and treat Alzheimer’s in the future. Learn more.
Although many causes of Alzheimer’s are beyond your control, evidence shows there are some things you can do to lower your risk – such as keeping active, eating healthy and exercising your mind*.
Several studies have found a link between physical activity and reduced risk of cognitive decline. Getting regular cardiovascular exercise (about 30 minutes a day most days of the week) elevates your heart rate and increases blood flow to the brain and body. It also increases chemicals that have a protective role in the brain. For added benefit, consider activities that include both aerobic and social aspects, such as walking with friends or taking a gym class, or challenge you to learn a new skill, like tennis or a dance class.
In general, a heart-healthy diet is good for the brain too. Choose foods that are:
- Lower in saturated fats
- Higher in omega-3 fatty acids (e.g., fish) and lower in red meat
- Lower in salt
- Higher in vegetables and fruit
- Higher in grains, nuts, and seeds
A Mediterranean diet, or the DASH diet, which was developed to reduce the risk of hypertension (high blood pressure) are recommended for good brain health.
Getting Enough Sleep:
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, people with sleep disorders or those who do not get enough sleep have an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s and related dementias. It’s important to ensure you are getting adequate sleep as part of your overall health care.
Exercising Your Mind:
Continuous learning has been shown to help stave off long-term mental decline. Here are some suggestions:
- Read a book
- Play board games and card games – chess, checkers, Uno, speed (to name a few)
- Puzzles – Sudoku, crosswords, wordfinder, etc.
- Try brain-teasers
- Visualization and meditation exercises
- Memory games
- Take a class and try something new, such as a musical instrument, a language, painting or other hobby
These are just a few simple examples. The important element is to challenge your mind to learn something new and work in ways it may not be used to.
Stay involved in daily life with friends and engage in social activities as much as you can. Good relationships – with family, friends and our wider communities – are important for our mental wellbeing.
*Sources: Alzheimer’s Association; Alzheimer’s Society, Mayo Clinic, NHS
Clinical Trials -Learn More
Clinical trials are investigating potential treatments for people with Alzheimer’s. They are often seeking volunteers to take part.
If you are eligible and choose to participate, you will receive all study-related care and study medication at no cost during your participation.
Have you considered taking part in a clinical trial for people with Alzheimer’s?
Potential benefits of participating in a clinical trial include:
- Close care and monitoring by a study doctor and staff throughout the study
- No cost for study treatment, related tests and procedures
- Contribute to our understanding of the treatment options for Alzheimer’s in the future
If you would like to be considered for an upcoming clinical trial in Alzheimer’s, take our survey.
Please take some time to answer a few questions and be considered for an upcoming clinical trial for people with Alzheimer’s. We also invite you to join our Alzheimer’s Team community to connect with others affected by the disease.
Thank you for sharing with us.
If you would like to be notified about an upcoming clinical trial, you may sign up at the end of our survey.