Major leaps made in Alzheimer's research, three FDA approved treatments slows mental decline

Illustration: StatePoint
StatePoint Media - 2023 was a landmark year for Alzheimer’s disease research, including advancements in treatment, risk factors and diagnosis. Here are five significant discoveries made this year:

There are three new approved treatments for Alzheimer’s, with a fourth on the way

In July, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted traditional approval for Leqembi for mild cognitive impairment due to Alzheimer’s and mild Alzheimer’s dementia. This treatment slows cognitive decline and can help people with early Alzheimer’s maintain their independence.

In June 2021, the FDA granted accelerated approval to Aduhelm for the same purpose. At the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC) in July 2023, Lilly reported positive results for a third similar treatment: donanemab. The company expects FDA action in early 2024.

In May, the FDA approved the first treatment for agitation in people with Alzheimer’s — brexpiprazole.

Hearing aids could slow cognitive decline for at-risk older adults

In the largest clinical trial to investigate whether a hearing loss treatment can reduce risk of cognitive decline, researchers found that older adults with hearing loss cut their cognitive decline in half by using hearing aids for three years.

The intervention included hearing aids, a hearing “toolkit,” and ongoing instruction and counseling. Though the positive results were in a subgroup of the total study population, they are encouraging and merit further investigation.

Blood tests for Alzheimer’s are coming soon.

Blood tests show promise for improving how Alzheimer’s is diagnosed. Advancements reported for the first time at AAIC 2023 demonstrate the simplicity and value to doctors of blood-based markers for Alzheimer’s.

Blood tests are already being implemented in Alzheimer’s drug trials. And they are incorporated into proposed new diagnostic criteria for the disease. Blood tests — once verified and approved by the FDA — would offer a noninvasive and cost-effective option for identifying the disease.

First-ever U.S. county-level Alzheimer’s prevalence estimates

The first-ever county-level estimates of the prevalence of Alzheimer’s dementia — in all 3,142 U.S. counties — were reported at AAIC 2023. For counties with a population of more than 10,000 people age 65 and older, the highest Alzheimer’s prevalence rates are in:

• Miami-Dade County, Fla. (16.6%)

• Baltimore City, Md. (16.6%)

• Bronx County, N.Y. (16.6%)

• Prince George’s County, Md. (16.1%)

• Hinds County, Miss. (15.5%)

Certain characteristics of these counties may explain the higher prevalence, including older age and a higher percentage of Black and Hispanic residents, which are communities disproportionately impacted by Alzheimer’s disease. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, these statistics can help officials determine the burden on the health care system, and pinpoint areas for culturally-sensitive caregiver training.

Chronic constipation is associated with poor cognitive function

Approximately 16% of the world’s population struggles with constipation. This year, researchers reported that less frequent bowel movements were associated with significantly worse cognitive function.

People in the study with bowel movements every three days or more had worse memory and thinking equal to three years of cognitive aging. These results stress the importance of clinicians discussing gut health with their older patients.

To learn more about Alzheimer’s and dementia research, plus available care and support — and to join the cause or make a donation — visit the Alzheimer’s Association at www.alz.org.

While there is still much to learn about Alzheimer’s, 2023 was a year of discovery, giving researchers and families impacted by the disease hope for the year ahead.


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