Alzheimers Home > Dementia Research

Much research is being done on dementia in order to help doctors better understand, diagnose, and treat the disease. Some research involves the search for additional genes that may contribute to Alzheimer's disease, the most common cause of dementia. Other studies are being conducted to see if insulin resistance plays a role in the development of Alzheimer's.

Dementia Research: An Overview

Currently, scientists are conducting research on many different aspects of dementia. This research promises to improve the lives of people affected by such symptoms and may eventually lead to ways of preventing or curing the disorders that result in dementia.
Some areas of focus for dementia research include:
  • Causes and prevention
  • Diagnosis
  • Treatment.

Researching the Causes and Prevention of Dementia

Research on the causes of Alzheimer's disease (and other disorders that are causes of dementia) includes studies of:
  • Genetic factors
  • Neurotransmitters
  • Inflammation
  • Factors that influence programmed cell death in the brain
  • The roles of tau, beta amyloid, and the associated neurofibrillary tangles and plaques in Alzheimer's disease.
Some other dementia research scientists are trying to determine the possible roles of cholesterol metabolism, oxidative stress (chemical reactions that can damage proteins, DNA, and lipids inside cells), and microglia in the development of Alzheimer's disease.
Current research on dementia prevention and causes includes the following:
  • Research to better understand the role of aging-related proteins (such as the enzyme telomerase) in the development of dementia.
  • Studies of abnormal clumps of proteins in cells. Researchers are trying to learn how abnormal clumps of protein in cells develop, how they affect cells, and how the clumping can be prevented.
  • Studies that examine whether changes in white matter -- nerve fibers lined with myelin -- may play a role in the onset of Alzheimer's disease. Myelin may erode in Alzheimer's disease patients before other changes occur. This may be due to a problem with oligodendrocytes, the cells that produce myelin.
  • Work being done by scientists to search for additional genes that may contribute to Alzheimer's disease. These researchers have identified a number of gene regions that may be involved in the development of Alzheimer's.

Some researchers suggest that people will eventually be screened for a number of genes that contribute to Alzheimer's disease and that they will be able to receive treatments that specifically address their individual genetic risks. However, such individualized screening and treatment is still years away.

  • Studies on insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is common in people with Alzheimer's disease, but it is not clear whether the insulin resistance contributes to the development of the disease or if it is merely a side effect.
  • Several dementia research studies have found a reduced risk of dementia in people who take cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins. However, it is not yet clear if the apparent effect is due to the drugs or to other factors. Therefore, more research is being currently being done be better understand this possible relationship between statins and dementia.
  • A 2003 dementia research study found that people with HIV-associated dementia have different levels of activity for more than 30 different proteins, compared to people who have HIV but no signs of dementia. The study suggests a possible way to screen HIV patients for the first signs of cognitive impairment, and it may lead to ways of intervening to prevent this form of dementia. Research in this area continues.
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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