Pipetting a cure into a multi well plate for alzheimers and dementia.
(Credit: Marko Geber / Getty Images)

The burden of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias is significant, according to the National Institutes of Health. But scientists have made progress in drug development, lifestyle interventions, biomarker research and more, according to a 2022 progress report.

The NIH estimates that healthcare and long-term services for people living with dementia in 2021 cost $321 billion. In 2022, more than 6 million Americans aged 65 or more years have Alzheimer’s, a number projected to increase as the nation’s population ages, the report  notes.

Thirty-four percent of assisted living residents had diagnoses of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias as of 2018, according to a 2021 data brief from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics.

Preventing, treating Alzheimer’s

Between April 2021 and early 2022, scientists reported significant progress in research, including adding to the growing list of genetic factors and molecular pathways involved in the disease, including DNA damage, cellular senescence and energy dysfunction, according to the NIH. 

Researchers also developed a new generation of research tools to identify, explore and validate disease mechanisms as well as a variety of potential drug targets. Progress also was made in determining how behavioral and lifestyle factors affect dementia risk, according to the report.

The pipeline of potential treatments has grown, with drug development research into anti-amyloid drugs and protein malfunctions, as well as accelerating the discovery of new dementia drugs and repurposing existing drugs for other conditions.

Biomarker research that leads to more reliable, more affordable and less invasive tests is focusing on diagnosing and differentiating among dementia types, the report stated.

Health disparities in dementia risk also led to studies suggesting steps to improve healthy equity, particularly in clinical trials. That effort, the NIH stated, will lead to a more precise, person-centered approach to dementia prevention and treatment that considers an individual’s sex, race, ethnicity, lifestyle, socioeconomic status and specific environmental exposures.

The National Plan to Address Alzheimer’s Disease, which grew out of the National Alzheimer’s Project Act, led to a significant increase in funding for dementia research in recent years to achieve an ambitious goal of preventing and effectively treating Alzheimer’s and related dementias by 2025, the NIH noted.

The NIH’s National Institute on Aging and National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke conduct and fund most of the NIH research on Alzheimer’s and related dementias. 

In July, the NIH requested an additional $321 million in fiscal year 2024 for research into Alzheimer’s and related dementias through its annual professional judgment budget. Alzheimer’s research funding has increased seven-fold under NAPA. Today, funding for research in Alzheimer’s and other dementias totals more than $3.5 billion.

Collaboration drives success

The report authors attributed those advances to collaborations among researchers, clinicians, individuals living with dementia, care partners and families.

“Together, we are accelerating the momentum of research on Alzheimer’s and related dementias and creating a path forward toward effective prevention, diagnostic, treatment and care options,” the report concluded.

Looking forward, the NIH said it expects to see less invasive diagnostic tests, advances in health equity, collaborations with the private sector to accelerate treatment options, targeted treatments, discovery of more contributing factors to dementia, and evidence of the effects of behavior and lifestyle practices on lowering disease risk.