AAIC Roundup: Alzheimer’s, Seizures, Sleep Medication, the LGBT Community and More

illustration of human body surrounded by molecules

It was a big week for Alzheimer’s research as researchers from around the world descended on Los Angeles to attend the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC) this week. There were stories about how infectious agents may be involved in the disease, genes linked to women’s Alzheimer’s risk, and the identification of new biomarkers that may lead to advanced diagnostics.

Here's a look at some of the stories you may have missed.

Alzheimer’s and Epilepsy

People with Alzheimer’s disease have a significantly higher incidence of epileptic seizures. In fact, they have six-and-a-half times more than people without dementia. Research presented by several different researchers explored the connection between Alzheimer’s and seizures. A study presented by Ruby Castilla-Puentas, director, clinical research, neuroscience at Janssen Pharmaceuticals, a Johnson & Johnson company, along with Miguel Habeych at the University of Cincinnati, found that individuals with dementia had a higher risk of new-onset or first-time seizures. They postulate that some of the seizures may be caused by the drugs used to treat dementia, as well as other conditions associated with both seizures and dementia, but it’s clear that the risk is much higher for this patient group.

Some Sleep Medications Increase Dementia Risk

Several studies linked to sleep medications, sleep problems and Alzheimer’s were presented. Sleep disturbances are common in Alzheimer’s and other dementia patients, affecting up to 45% of dementia patients. One study presented by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, found that frequent use of sleep medications might increase dementia risk, but that it varies by race. The study found that study participants who reported “often” or “almost always” taking sleep medications were 43% more likely to develop dementia compared to people who reported “never or rarely” taking them. The risk was also only observed in white adults. There is also a gender variation, as reported by a study by researchers from Utah State University. Women who used sleep medication had 3.6 times increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s compared to those who did not.

Researchers at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada, also presented research looking at whether it was possible to improve circadian regulation by resetting the biological clock, called chronotherapy, in adults with mild cognitive impairment. The clinical trial did find that the chronotherapy was effective in improving sleep quality in the patient group.

Eisai Co. Presented Research on Tau Microtubule Quantification

The accumulation of two different abnormal proteins, beta-amyloid and tau, is associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Eisai presented data on a new antibody to tau, E2814. It is believed that tau spreads through the brain of Alzheimer’s patients by way of synaptically-connected pathways, which is mediated by tau seeds that contain the microtubule-binding region of tau (MTBR). E2814 targets MTBR-containing tau species, preventing the buildup and spread of tau seeds, which might slow the spread of the disease.

Aerobic Exercise and Preventing Alzheimer’s

Generally, lifestyle behaviors that are good for the heart are good for the brain, and that has led to researchers noting that keeping blood pressure and cholesterol levels in check via diet and exercise and appropriate medications may decrease the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers with Wake Forest University School of Medicine presented research from the EXERT study to determine if exercise can protect from memory and cognition problems associated with Alzheimer’s. The EXERT study takes 300 people at high risk for Alzheimer’s and randomly splits them into two groups for 18 months. Half perform aerobic exercise, the other half stretching and flexibility exercises. They participate in memory and cognition tests, as well as brain blood flow, atrophy and protein testing. The study is ongoing and is still looking for another 100 people between the ages of 65 and 89 who don’t regularly exercise who have mild cognitive impairment.

Increased Risk of Alzheimer’s in the LGBT Community

Research presented at the AAIC meeting reported finding higher rates of subjective cognitive decline among lesbian, gay, bisexual and/or transgender (LGBT) Americans compared to cisgender heterosexual individuals. The trial used self-reported data on subjective cognitive decline (SCD). The research presented by Jason Flatt from UCSF found that 14% of participants reported subjective cognitive decline compared to 10% among the cisgender heterosexual participants. Even after adjusting for income, age and race, the LGBT group was 29% more likely to report subjective cognitive decline. The connection is undetermined, although the researchers speculate that it is related to higher rates of depression, stress, inability to work and a lack of regular healthcare access in the LGBT population.

Another group reported on the effectiveness of a first-of-its-kind Alzheimer’s intervention for LGBT older individuals with dementia. They identified unique risk factors of LGBT older adults with dementia, including more likely to live alone (almost 60%), not partnered or married (65%), no children (72%) and no caregiver (59%) compared to older non-LGBT adults with dementia. The intervention study looked at individualized programs of exercise, and behavioral and coping strategies to improve physical function, independence and quality of life.

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