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Florida researchers present findings at Alzheimer's Association conference

Convention center where the Alzheimer's Association International Conference is taking place. Large blue sign that says "AAIC 22" stands above a room.
Stefanie Wardlow
/
Alzheimer's Association
Experts say Alzheimer's research is expanding to look at how the entire body as well as the physical and social environment a person lives in can affect their chances of developing dementia.

Researchers are exploring how a wide range of factors including racism and gut health can contribute to Alzheimer's and related dementias.

Florida researchers are sharing findings that can help people better understand Alzheimer's disease and dementia at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference in San Diego this week.

There are 32 experts from the state presenting a diverse body of research at the conference, including several from the University of South Florida in Tampa, according to Stefanie Wardlow, the association’s Florida research champion.

One study from USF neuropsychologist Tanisha Hill-Jarrett highlights how racism and discrimination can harm brain health in Black Americans, who have a much higher risk for developing Alzheimer’s than white Americans. Her research found improving social support networks for individuals could help protect against that harm.

Another study from Hariom Yadav, director of USF’s Center for Microbiome Research, suggests that keeping the bacteria that live in our guts happy can help prevent dementia.

Yadav is studying whether reducing inflammation in the gut with diet changes and probiotics can help reduce inflammation in the brain and prevent dementia. His team has had success with mice and is now recruiting people for related research.

“People are always thinking above the neck versus below the neck, now this is bringing a completely different level of understanding in the science, that really the whole body is connected and although the brain controls a lot of functions, lots of other organs including the gut also contribute to maintaining normal brain health,” said Yadav.

RELATED: Alzheimer's researchers are looking beyond plaques and tangles for new treatments

The variety of studies presented at the conference earned praise from Wardlow.

“I think having all these topics being so different really highlights the complication of Alzheimer's disease, you know we really need to look at this disease from all different types of angles, not just one,” she said.

Alzheimer’s research is expanding with the help of new ideas and more funding. Rather than focus solely on amyloid plaques and tau tangles, protein clusters long considered key markers of the disease, Wardlow said researchers are looking at the whole person and their environment to better understand what causes cognitive decline.

Some other Florida institutions represented at the conference include the University of Miami and the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville.

The Alzheimer’s Association’s Florida chapter published a blog that features highlights from the conference.

I cover health care for WUSF and the statewide journalism collaborative Health News Florida. I’m passionate about highlighting community efforts to improve the quality of care in our state and make it more accessible to all Floridians. I’m also committed to holding those in power accountable when they fail to prioritize the health needs of the people they serve.