Does Having COVID-19 Make Alzheimer’s Worse? – Top News from 2021 Alzheimer’s Conference

The Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC) is the world’s largest annual gathering of researchers from around the world focused on Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Last week,
the conference was held virtually in Denver, and it brought together attendees from more than 100 countries, with 3,100 presentations.

Two themes dominated this year’s Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC 2021): “New reasons for concern” and “expanding reasons for hope.”

Important News from this Year’s International Alzheimer’s Conference

This year, researchers looked at the impact of COVID-19 on the brain and the mental health of long-term care residents who had it. Research presented suggests that COVID-19 can affect the nervous system in lasting ways that contribute to the development — or worsening — of Alzheimer’s disease, especially in older adults.

One study of blood biomarkers of 310 patients over age 60 who’d been admitted to NYU Langone Health in New York City with COVID-19 found that about half the people experienced new, infection-related neurological symptoms such as confusion, while the other half didn’t. The former group showed brain inflammation and neuronal damage “to a significant degree,” says Dr. Thomas Wisniewski, professor of neurology, pathology and psychiatry at New York University School of Medicine.

Researchers believe that the pandemic had a huge impact and we’re only at the first stages of understanding that impact. Dr. Wisniewski’s team plans to monitor these patients more closely for dementia development. “Those with pre-existing dementia are both at greater risk of neurological complications with COVID and of possible acceleration of disease,” Dr. Wisniewski says. Other researchers presented similar concerning findings whose Alzheimer’s impact they say only time will tell.

Other Important Research Uncovered at the Conference 

The following describes other findings that were presented at AAIC 2021: 

Improving Air Quality Reduces Dementia Risk, Multiple Studies Suggest

Improving air quality may improve cognitive function and reduce dementia risk, according to several studies reported at AAIC 2021. In a French study, reduction of PM2.5 concentration over 10 years was associated with a 15% reduced risk of all-cause dementia and 17% reduced risk of Alzheimer’s. 

“Long-term exposure to air pollutants was associated with higher beta amyloid levels in a large U.S. cohort, showing a possible biological connection between air quality and physical brain changes that define Alzheimer’s disease, according to a team at University of Washington.

A Rise in Younger-Onset Dementia.

Cases of younger-onset (before age 65) dementia have not been well tracked, but a new analysis of international studies shows an increasing incidence rate of 11 per 100,000. That corresponds to 360,000 new cases per year. Alzheimer’s disease was the most common type of young-onset dementia, followed by vascular and frontotemporal forms. This may be a surprising statistic to some given that Parkinson’s disease is known for being a younger-onset disease that typically leads to dementia. However, Parkinson’s dementia happens later on in the progression of Parkinson’s and doesn’t affect everyone with the disease, but only about 50-80% of those diagnosed.

A Forecast of a Huge Increase in Dementia. 

Global cases of dementia are expected to triple by 2050, to more than 152 million, according to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington School ofMedicine.

Reasons for Hope

While some of the news to emerge from this year’s conference was disheartening, there were also potentially brighter findings:

– New Alzheimer’s Drug: 

An expert panel announced use recommendations for the recently (and controversially) FDA-approved Aducanumab(brand name Aduhelm) for Alzheimer’s. Read my article (link to blog article) on Aducanumab for more details on the controversial drug. 

Preventative Strategies Continued to be a Part of the Disease-Eradication Conversation: 

Researchers around the globe are exploring how to prevent Alzheimer’s. Though research is still evolving, evidence is strong that people can reduce their risk by making key lifestyle changes, including participating in regular activity and maintaining good heart health. 

Researchers said that you can expect to hear more about lifestyle interventions and FINGER-HLI (Finnish Geriatric Intervention Study to Prevent Cognitive Impairment and Disability (FINGER)), a Healthy Living Index tool under development to monitor the effectiveness of lifestyle changes. FINGER was the first large trial showing the effectiveness of multiple lifestyle interventions in preventing cognitive decline. 

Global Access to Education is Expected to Reduce Incidences of Alzheimer’s, Despite an Aging Population.

Positive trends in global education access are expected to decrease dementia prevalence worldwide by 6.2 million cases by the year 2050.

“Improvements in lifestyle in adults in developed countries and other places — including increasing access to education and greater attention to heart health issues — have reduced incidence in recent years, but total numbers with dementia are still going up because of the aging of the population,” said Maria C. Carrillo, Ph.D., Alzheimer’s Association chief science officer

The Mortality Rate of People with Alzheimer’s has Increased Dramatically:

A sharp rise in the mortality rate for Alzheimer’s in America has occurred in the past 20 years. The mortality rate increased by 88% from 1999 to 2019. The rates ranged widely by area, with the highest incidence in the rural East South-Central part of the country (which includes Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi and Alabama), with roughly three times more deaths than those in the lowest region, the urban Mid-Atlantic. Access to health care, socioeconomics and the growing number of older Americans may be behind the discrepancy, says Emory University’s Ambar Kulshreshtha.

This discrepancy is likely the result of many health disparities experienced by rural residents compared to their urban counterparts, including lower socio-economic status, higher levels of chronic disease, limited availability of internet services, and less access to health services, including primary care.

Planning in Advance – Medicaid Asset Protection

People with Alzheimer’s live on average four to eight years after they’re diagnosed, but some may live 20 years beyond their initial diagnosis. Do you have a loved one who is suffering from Alzheimer’s or any other type of dementia? Persons with dementia and their families face special legal and financial needs. At the Farr Law Firm, we are dedicated to easing the financial and emotional burden on those suffering from Alzheimer’s (and other forms of dementia) and their loved ones.  We help protect your family’s hard-earned assets while maintaining your loved one’s comfort, dignity, and quality of life by ensuring eligibility for critical government benefits such as Medicaid and Veterans Aid and Attendance. Please call us whenever you’re ready to make an appointment for a consultation. Please see our COVID-19 policy for more details on safety measures we are taking for clients and staff.

Fairfax Elder Law: 703-691-1888
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About Evan H Farr, CELA, CAP

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.

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