Alzheimer’s Prevention Strategies: Claims versus Reality

AAICpic1The Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC) in Toronto is wrapping up later this week, and over 5,000 attendees are going home with a trove of new, and sometimes conflicting information. We have selected a few highlights from AAIC 2016 and provide a summary for reference:

The Claim: Brain Training Can Prevent Dementia

The Reality: The “brain training” industry has been struggling with credibility problems for years, including being hit with fines and other enforcement actions by the FTC – Lumosity and LearningRx being recent examples of companies who crossed the line.

The buzz at AAIC revolves around the ACTIVE study and a follow up analysis of a speed of processing research game called Useful Field of View test (UFOV):


A 10 year analysis showed that the participants in the ACTIVE study who trained on the UFOV test were statistically less likely to succumb to Alzheimer’s during that 10 year period – about 30% less risk for dementia, which is significant.

However, these results are in the “press release” stage, and have not been independently verified. Sometimes initial findings don’t hold up under the scrutiny of the peer review publication process, and it would be good to see these results reproduced in a independent study.

A commercial company, BrainHQ, purchased rights to the UFOV test and created a new online version named Double Decision. To date, no research has been published on BrainHQ’s version of the UFOV test.

Bottom Line: Cognitive engagement and continuous novelty is good for brain health over the long term. In addition to trying your hand at a few brain speed games, learn a new language, and take an online course that challenges your cognitive skills.

Curious about your brain? Take the Healthy Brain Test to learn about your risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease, and receive your brain health score.

The Claim: Behavior and Personality Changes Could be Early Warning Sign of Dementia

The Reality: Depression and other mood changes can be an early sign of Alzheimer’s, however, mood and personality changes are also associated with many other types of dementia such as fronto-temporal dementia (FTD) and dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB).

Many early signs of mood changes and memory loss problems in older adults are first noticed by family members, caregivers, and close friends. Readers can use this Alzheimer’s-Dementia Memory Loss Checklist to determine the probability of symptoms.

The Claim: We’re Getting Closer to a Cure for Alzheimer’s Disease

The Reality: Maybe, but don’t hold your breath. The myopic focus on amyloid beta clearance from the brain as the only possible therapy for Alzheimer’s disease has finally shifted to a more realistic view that toxic tau protein tangles are also central to the disease process.

At a symposium that reviewed the amyloid-tau relationship in the pathophysiology of Alzheimer’s disease, the presenters (Dennis Selkoe, MD, Harvard Medical School; David Holtzman, MD, Washington University School of Medicine; William Jagust, MD, UC Berkeley) were refreshing in their honesty that the Alzheimer’s research community is only now beginning to grapple with the complex interaction of tau protein and amyloid protein in Alzheimer’s.

The good news is that there is renewed energy in solving this complex puzzle, including the influence of multiple genetic markers for Alzheimer’s.

The next 5-10 years will be a crucial window to formulate what will most likely be a multi-therapy approach to solving Alzheimer’s disease.