Highlights from international conference on Alzheimer’s

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – Alzheimer’s is a fearsome disease. Millions of people are afflicted, and so far, there’s not much we can do.

But doctors are learning more, and there was a lot of exciting discussion during last week’s international conference on Alzheimer’s.

One of the most striking things reported was the presence of a protein called TDP-43 that accumulates in the brain. Doctors long known about two other proteins, beta amyloid and tau, that are involved in Alzheimer’s, but a microscopic view of the brain shows a combination of these proteins.

Dr. Maria Carillo of the Alzheimer’s Association said, “For the very first time we have evidence that when a human has TDP-43 protein also, they are 10 times more likely to have dementia problems.”

It’s also important in other diseases with dementia. TDP-43 shows up in people with ALS – Lou Gehrig’s disease – who are not demented. It accumulates more widely when dementia is part of the disease.

It’s now a real target for further study.

One group presented a new eye test that may be able to detect amyloid in the retina years before a person becomes demented. That would give doctors time to try to prevent it or slow it down, and there’s been progress on that end also.

A small, well-controlled study showed that a drug that’s already in use for rheumatoid arthritis may be able to slow the progress of dementia. It seems to work, but of course needs more testing.

And for the first time, there’s evidence from a well-controlled study that lifestyle interventions – the same things doctors recommend for heart disease – can truly prevent cognitive impairment. It was tested on more than 1,200 people in their 60s and 70s, and after two years, those who followed recommended lifestyle changes did much better on several tests of mental function.

The study is still going on, but you don’t have to wait. Start taking care of yourself now.

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