Alzheimer’s is a triple threat unlike any other disease — with soaring prevalence, lack of effective treatment and enormous costs.
The Alzheimer’s Association is the world’s largest nonprofit funder of Alzheimer’s research and has invested over $455 million in nearly 3,000 scientific investigations since 1982.
The Alzheimer’s Association-Oregon and Southwest Washington Chapter collaborates with Oregon Health Sciences University to work toward methods of treatment, prevention and, ultimately, a cure.
Responses to the below research questions are provided by the following members of the OHSU Rex and Ruth H. Layton Aging and Alzheimer’s Disease Center, one of 29 Alzheimer’s Disease Centers in the United States recognized by the National Institutes of Health and the only one of its kind in Oregon:
Allison Lindauer, Ph.D., N.P., assistant professor of neurology, OHSU School of Medicine.
Aimee Pierce, M.D., associate professor of neurology, OHSU School of Medicine.
Lisa Silbert, M.D., M.C.R., associate professor of neurology, OHSU School of Medicine
1. What are the causes of Alzheimer’s disease?
The exact causes of Alzheimer’s disease are not known however we do know that Alzheimer’s is associated with a build-up of abnormal proteins in the brain, called plaques and tangles. There is also reduced metabolism and blood flow in the brain, reduced synapses (connections between brain cells or “neurons”), and death of neurons. Possible causes of Alzheimer’s under investigation include age-related changes in cellular “waste processing,” inflammation, and cerebrovascular dysfunction.
2. Is there a connection between Alzheimer’s disease and heart health?
It is well known that high blood pressure and other heart disease risk factors are associated with increased risk of cognitive decline and dementia in older individuals. While this has been thought to be mainly due to the associated increased risk of stroke and cerebrovascular disease, there is recent evidence linking heart disease risk factors more specifically to Alzheimer’s disease pathology. For example, there have been several studies showing that individuals with hardening of the arteries (or atherosclerosis, a known risk factor for heart disease) have more amyloid plaques in their brain, one of the two pathological hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease. The growing evidence linking “heart health” to “brain health” suggests that measures taken to prevent heart disease and stroke, such as maintaining adequate blood pressure control, a healthy diet and frequent exercise, could potentially reduce your risk of dementia, including that from Alzheimer’s disease, as you grow older.
3. Can you share any tips for how to reduce your risk of cognitive decline?
Diet, exercise and social engagement are important at any age, and research shows that these things can reduce the risk of developing dementia in older adults. Breaking a sweat seems to reduce the risk, and we know that the risk is also reduced for people on a Mediterranean diet rich in plant-based foods, whole grains, legumes and nuts. We also know that when people are socially engaged, with friends or family, it helps to protect their brains.
4. What is the latest in Alzheimer’s disease-related research at OHSU?
We are conducting several novel clinical trials at OHSU, testing new treatments for Alzheimer’s disease. Some of these treatments include antibodies that block or clear amyloid and tau proteins in the brain, the proteins that form plaques and tangles. We are also testing treatments that may prevent Alzheimer’s in healthy older adults who are at higher risk of developing the disease due to their genes. In addition, we’re working through our telehealth program to help caregivers identify triggers for distressing behaviors in seniors experiencing cognitive decline. OHSU is also testing a clinical intervention called I-CONECT to test whether guided conversations by video can stave off dementia in socially-isolated seniors.
5. Why is it important for individuals to participate in clinical trials?
There is currently no treatment that can slow or reverse the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. Physicians, scientists, patients and families are all desperate to find new treatments, and the only way to do so is to conduct clinical trials to learn more about Alzheimer’s and test treatments in patients. Clinical trials cannot be performed without willing and devoted patients. It is highly likely that the first patient to be cured of Alzheimer’s will be a participant in a clinical trial. Some of the benefits of being in a clinical trial include access to novel treatments and technology, treatment by experts in the field, close monitoring of your overall health and brain, and the knowledge you are helping future generations have a chance to live in a world without Alzheimer’s.