The five things America learned about Alzheimer’s disease in 2022
2022 was a productive and promising year for Alzheimer’s research, including discoveries related to the causes, risk factors and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.
“This is such an exciting time for research, both for those working in the field and for the millions of people living with Alzheimer’s or another dementia and their families,” said Elizabeth Edgerly, executive director of the Alzheimer’s Association Northern California and Northern Nevada Chapter. “We know it’s going to take a multi-pronged approach to really address the underlying causes and symptoms of this disease, and we’ve seen some great progress over the last couple of years. We’ve come a long way and we still have a long way to go, but these improvements in treatments and research are bringing hope to so many lives, and I’m excited to see what develops in the near future.”
Here are five important things we learned about Alzheimer’s in 2022:
Alzheimer’s treatments are getting better. In November, pharmaceutical companies Eisai and Biogen announced positive results from their global Phase three clinical trial of an Alzheimer’s drug called lecanemab, slowing the rate of cognitive decline in study participants by 27 percent over 18 months. These are the most encouraging results we have seen to date for an Alzheimer’s treatment. A Food and Drug Administration (FDA) decision on accelerated approval is expected early in January 2023, potentially making lecanemab the second FDA-approved drug in 18 months that changes the course of Alzheimer’s disease.
A daily multivitamin may slow brain aging. Research published in September in Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association found that taking a multivitamin-mineral supplement every day for three years resulted in a statistically significant cognitive benefit. This is the first positive, large-scale, long-term study to show that multivitamin-mineral supplementation for older adults may slow cognitive aging. With confirmation through research, these promising findings have the potential to significantly impact public health — improving brain health, lowering health care costs, and reducing caregiver burden — especially among older adults.
Frozen pizza, candy and soda may raise the risk of cognitive decline. At the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC) last summer, new research results found that eating a large amount of ultra-processed food can significantly accelerate cognitive decline. The research was then published in JAMA Neurology in December. Ultra-processed foods make up more than half of American diets. The good news is there are steps we can take to reduce risk of cognitive decline as we age. These include eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly, getting good sleep, staying cognitively engaged, protecting from head injury, not smoking and managing heart health.
Experiencing racism is linked to poor memory. Also at AAIC 2022, researchers reported that experiences of structural, interpersonal and institutional racism are associated with lower memory scores and worse cognition in midlife and old age, especially among Black individuals. These data are especially important given Black Americans are about twice as likely, and Hispanic Americans are about one and one-half times as likely, to have Alzheimer’s or other dementias according to the 2022 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures report.
Wearing hearing aids may reduce risk of dementia. Individuals with hearing loss who used hearing restorative devices had a 19 percent decrease in risk of long-term cognitive decline, according to research published in December in JAMA Neurology. These data appeared five months after the FDA announced it will allow hearing aids to be sold over the counter, greatly expanding access to 30 million Americans living with hearing loss. In addition to improving daily communication, use of hearing aids may also benefit brain health.
While advancements are happening, the significant impact of Alzheimer’s remains. Over a recent 20-year period, deaths from heart disease went down 7.3 percent, while deaths from Alzheimer’s increased 145%. In 2022, Alzheimer’s and other dementias will cost the nation $321 billion.
There are over 6.5 million people living with Alzheimer’s in the United States, including over 690,000 in California.
“With several FDA decisions expected on Alzheimer’s treatments in 2023, this is a very exciting time in the fight to end this disease,” said Edgerly. “Thanks to increased research funding from the federal government and nonprofit organizations, there is great hope, and the new year is sure to bring more advances and discoveries for people living with, and at risk for, Alzheimer’s disease and all other dementia.”