The Latest in Research from this year’s Alzheimer’s Association International Conference

By Kaitlyn Bertholet, Alzheimer’s Association Regional Coordinator and Research Champion

Alzheimer’s research leaders convened in Denver

During the last week in July, over 11,000 attendees from 110 countries joined the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC), both onsite in Denver and virtually. Each year, AAIC convenes the world’s leading basic science and clinical researchers, next generation investigators, and the dementia care research community.

The need for conferences like AAIC is crucial. Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias are a growing global health crisis. Over 6 million Americans, including 69,000 Oregonians and 120,000 Washingtonians, are currently living with the disease. The only way we are going to solve this crisis is through research. Convening leaders in the field creates opportunities to share research discoveries that will lead to new preventions and treatments, as well as improvements in early detection, diagnosis and care.

This year’s hybrid event was more accessible than ever

Kaitlyn Bertholet, Regional Coordinator and Research Champion

As a Regional Coordinator and Research Champion with the Alzheimer’s Association Oregon & Southwest Washington Chapter, I had the opportunity to attend the conference virtually. Having lost both of my grandmothers to Alzheimer’s, I am incredibly passionate about advancements in research and deeply hopeful for the day when dementia no longer exists. It was inspiring to learn about studies happening around the globe, including local research initiatives from Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) at the conference.

Many pieces of groundbreaking research were featured at AAIC 2021. Themes that emerged from the conference include:

  • Advances in imaging and biofluid biomarkers of Alzheimer’s.  
  • Taking action on social determinants research in brain health.
  • Risk factors for dementia around the world.
  • The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on reserve and resilience.

Air pollution and dementia risk

Multiple studies focused on the relationship between air pollution and dementia risk. Building on past research, the work presented suggests that reducing pollution is associated with lower risk of all-cause dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. These researchers looked at air quality over time in association with risk. Additionally, long-term exposure to air pollutants was associated with higher beta amyloid levels in the blood, showing a possible biological connection between air quality and physical brain changes that define Alzheimer’s disease.

Alzheimer’s risk factors in transgender individuals

Some of the first-ever reports of cognitive changes specifically in transgender individuals and gender nonbinary individuals were shared at AAIC. Research has been exploring experiences of dementia within the lesbian, gay and bisexual communities, suggesting these individuals experience a higher rate of subjective cognitive decline (SCD) than heterosexual individuals. SCD is a self-reported experience of confusion or memory loss that is happening more often or getting worse. One study in particular found that transgender adults were nearly twice as likely to report SCD, and more than twice as likely to report SCD-related functional limitations, such as reduced ability to work, volunteer or be social.

Congratulations to Dr. Jeffrey Kaye

One very exciting announcement was the Bill Thies Award for Distinguished Service to ISTAART recognizes a member who has provided continued and outstanding service to the Alzheimer’s Association International Society to Advance Alzheimer’s Research and Treatment (ISTAART) community. This year’s inaugural award went to Dr. Jeffrey Kaye, Layton Professor of Neurology and Biomedical Engineering and Director of the Layton Aging and Alzheimer’s Disease Center at OHSU. His research spans the fields of genetics, neuroimaging and physiology and focuses on understanding healthy aging. Congratulations to Dr. Kaye for being honored with this prestigious award!

There was a tremendous feeling of optimism as AAIC concluded. At any given moment, researchers around the world are seeking new treatments, earlier detection and prevention strategies. As scientists continue to advance new discoveries, we are filled with hope while continuing our work toward a world without Alzheimer’s and all other dementia.

Dr. Jeffrey Kaye, Oregon Health & Science University


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About the Alzheimer’s Association

The Alzheimer’s Association is a worldwide voluntary health organization dedicated to Alzheimer’s care, support and research. Our mission is to lead the way to end Alzheimer’s and all other dementia — by accelerating global research, driving risk reduction and early detection, and maximizing quality care and support. Our vision is a world without Alzheimer’s and all other dementia®.

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