Alzheimer's Disease: What Did We Learn in 2019?

Abstractr image representing Alzheimer's disease research

November is National Alzheimer's Disease Awareness Month — a great time to take a look at news presented in July at the annual Alzheimer's Association International Conference (AAIC), where scientists, clinical researchers, doctors and the care research community come together to share what they've learned during the past year.

Much of this research is focused on finding a cure someday. But many studies directly pertain to people today, offering insights into treatments, prevention, and caregiving best practices for people who are living with the disease.

Here's a quick look at some of the studies from AAIC 2019 and takeaways for seniors and families.

Gender differences in Alzheimer's disease. Researchers reported that the majority of people living with Alzheimer's disease are women — but why is that? There may be gender-specific genes that raise the risk for women. Certain brain differences may contribute. Researchers also noted that the brains of women can better compensate for early changes associated with the disease. That's a good thing, but with the disadvantage that women may be diagnosed later.

The takeaway: Women should follow their healthcare provider's brain health recommendations and learn about support services available for families who are dealing with Alzheimer's disease.

The infection-dementia connection. The Association notes, "Viruses, bacteria and other microorganisms in the brain (and the gut) are currently hot topics in neuroscience." One study is investigating whether the Porphyromonas gingivalis bacteria, which causes gum disease, also can infect the brain and lead to Alzheimer's disease. Other studies are looking at whether, and if so how, the herpes virus or other infectious agents could be causative factors.

The takeaway: This research gives us yet another reason to make oral health a priority and to follow all-around good hygiene practices.

The effect of sleep medications. Do sleep medications raise the risk of dementia? Or reduce it? Are they helpful or harmful for people with Alzheimer's disease? Short answer: It's complicated. The Association says that almost half of people with Alzheimer's disease experience sleep problems, noting, "Those who cannot sleep may wander, be unable to lie still, or yell or call out, disrupting the sleep of their caregivers." And while sleep medications might be helpful in treating sleep problems, they also could make things worse by disturbing normal sleep patterns.

The takeaway: Only take sleep medications with the advice of your doctor, and consult with a sleep expert about nondrug treatments, such as chronotherapy (resetting the body's biological clock for more normal sleep patterns).

Serving the needs of LGBT elders. Several of the AAIC 2019 studies focused on the experience of lesbian, gay, bisexual and/or transgender seniors who are facing memory problems. "Given their lifetime experiences of victimization, discrimination and bias, many LGBT older adults forgo seeking needed medical care," reported University of Washington professor Dr. Karen Fredriksen Goldsen. She reports that many LGBT elders and their caregivers have difficulty accessing information and support services, and when the senior has dementia, it is all the more challenging.

The takeaway: It's important to support and advocate for increased dementia care services and tailored approaches for LGBT elders and their families.

Further evidence that sensory loss raises the risk. One study confirmed that hearing loss or vision problems increase the risk of dementia, and further showed that when a senior has both of those impairments, the risk is even greater. A second study showed that even mild sensory loss can be harmful for our brains — and that includes not only hearing and vision, but also smell and touch.

The takeaway: Have regular hearing and vision tests, get hearing aids if they're recommended, and take advantage of advances in cataract surgery and other treatments for eye problems.

Genes vs. lifestyle. Today a simple test can provide insight into our genetic risk of Alzheimer's disease. But as we discussed briefly in the September 2019 issue of Caring Right at Home, lifestyle choices may be equally or more important. Data presented at AAIC 2019 showed that people who have multiple healthy habits can lower their risk by as much as 60%, even if they have a higher genetic risk.

The takeaway: Exercise, good nutrition, mental stimulation and avoiding smoking can protect our brains throughout life. It's never too late!

Information from the Alzheimer’s Association ( You can read more about these studies and learn about what’s coming in 2020 on the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference website.

Caregiver with senior client

In-home care supports the well-being of people with Alzheimer’s disease.

Early diagnosis helps people with Alzheimer's disease access the best treatment. Healthy lifestyle changes might slow the progression of the disease. But eventually, most of these seniors will need care support.

This care might be provided in a memory care community or skilled nursing facility. Many families hire professional in-home care to allow their loved one to stay home as long as possible, or perhaps to delay a move into a higher level of care in their loved one's senior living community.

  • Professional caregivers provide supervision and transportation to medical appointments.
  • They help ensure that clients follow the doctor's lifestyle recommendations, such as daily oral care, getting enough exercise, eating a nutritious diet and staying socially engaged.
  • They help keep the home safe as a client's needs change, keeping a watchful eye for hazards that could cause a fall and for other things that might not be safe — the stove left on, the client leaving the home alone, or eating something they shouldn't.
  • In-home care also provides respite for family so they can take care of their own health, continue at their job, and have some much-deserved downtime.

It's important to hire through an agency that educates their caregivers on the special needs of people with memory loss. It takes patience, understanding, resourcefulness and skills — and training helps build all of those qualities.

For information on topics related to home care and healthcare, visit our Home Care and Healthcare Advocacy group on LinkedIn

Right at Home, Inc. is a national organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for those we serve. We fulfill that mission through a dedicated network of locally owned providers of in home care services.