Alzheimer’s Association International Conference includes latest research on risk factors and prevention

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At this year’s Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC), a plethora of topics were covered including the biology of aging and the brain, risk factors and prevention strategies, and caregiving and living well with the disease.

Held in San Diego, Calif., the Alzheimer’s Association highlighted results from a variety of clinical trials, including the EXERT Study, a Phase 3 study of exercise in older adults with mild cognitive impairment (MCI). Eighty percent of participants complied with their exercise regimen and completed the study, which was conducted during the COVID-19 pandemic. After 12 months, people with MCI in both the aerobic exercise intervention arm and stretching arm showed no cognitive decline. A comparison group of other older adults with MCI showed significant cognitive decline over 12 months. The findings from EXERT suggest that regular physical activity, even modest or low exertion activity such as stretching, may protect brain cells against damage.

The conference also shared research about how the experience of racism is associated with poor memory and increased cognitive decline. In a study of nearly 1,000 middle-aged community-dwelling adults (55 percent Latinx; 23 percent Black; 19 percent white), exposure to interpersonal and institutional racism was associated with lower memory scores. The study found that the associations were strongest in Black individuals. Experiences of structural racism were associated with lower episodic memory among all racial and ethnic groups included in the study.

In addition, a study of 445 Asian, Black, Latino, white and multiracial people aged 90 and above showed individuals who experienced wide-ranging discrimination throughout life had poorer long-term memory later in life compared to those who experienced little to no discrimination.

Other research from the conference included:

  • History of hypertensive disorders during pregnancy is linked to increased risk of dementia.
  • Persistent loss of smell due to COVID is closely connected to long-lasting cognitive problems and intensive care unit (ICU) stays may double risk of dementia in older adults.
  • Ultra-processed foods may speed cognitive decline.
  • Lower socioeconomic status and persistent low wages linked to dementia risk and faster memory decline.

This year’s hybrid conference event took place both virtually and in-person and hosted more than 9,500 attendees and 4,000 scientific presentations.