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1.  Associations between Potentially Modifiable Risk Factors and Alzheimer Disease: A Mendelian Randomization Study 
PLoS Medicine  2015;12(6):e1001841.
Potentially modifiable risk factors including obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and smoking are associated with Alzheimer disease (AD) and represent promising targets for intervention. However, the causality of these associations is unclear. We sought to assess the causal nature of these associations using Mendelian randomization (MR).
Methods and Findings
We used SNPs associated with each risk factor as instrumental variables in MR analyses. We considered type 2 diabetes (T2D, NSNPs = 49), fasting glucose (NSNPs = 36), insulin resistance (NSNPs = 10), body mass index (BMI, NSNPs = 32), total cholesterol (NSNPs = 73), HDL-cholesterol (NSNPs = 71), LDL-cholesterol (NSNPs = 57), triglycerides (NSNPs = 39), systolic blood pressure (SBP, NSNPs = 24), smoking initiation (NSNPs = 1), smoking quantity (NSNPs = 3), university completion (NSNPs = 2), and years of education (NSNPs = 1). We calculated MR estimates of associations between each exposure and AD risk using an inverse-variance weighted approach, with summary statistics of SNP–AD associations from the International Genomics of Alzheimer’s Project, comprising a total of 17,008 individuals with AD and 37,154 cognitively normal elderly controls. We found that genetically predicted higher SBP was associated with lower AD risk (odds ratio [OR] per standard deviation [15.4 mm Hg] of SBP [95% CI]: 0.75 [0.62–0.91]; p = 3.4 × 10−3). Genetically predicted higher SBP was also associated with a higher probability of taking antihypertensive medication (p = 6.7 × 10−8). Genetically predicted smoking quantity was associated with lower AD risk (OR per ten cigarettes per day [95% CI]: 0.67 [0.51–0.89]; p = 6.5 × 10−3), although we were unable to stratify by smoking history; genetically predicted smoking initiation was not associated with AD risk (OR = 0.70 [0.37, 1.33]; p = 0.28). We saw no evidence of causal associations between glycemic traits, T2D, BMI, or educational attainment and risk of AD (all p > 0.1). Potential limitations of this study include the small proportion of intermediate trait variance explained by genetic variants and other implicit limitations of MR analyses.
Inherited lifetime exposure to higher SBP is associated with lower AD risk. These findings suggest that higher blood pressure—or some environmental exposure associated with higher blood pressure, such as use of antihypertensive medications—may reduce AD risk.
Robert A. Scott and colleagues use genetic instruments to identify causal associations between known risk factors and Alzheimer's disease.
Editors' Summary
Worldwide, about 44 million people have dementia, a group of brain degeneration disorders characterized by an irreversible decline in memory, communication, and other “cognitive” functions. Dementia mainly affects older people, and because people are living longer, experts estimate that more than 135 million people will have dementia by 2050. The most common form of dementia, which accounts for 60%–70% of cases, is Alzheimer disease (AD). The earliest sign of AD is often increasing forgetfulness. As the disease progresses, affected individuals gradually lose the ability to look after themselves, they may become anxious or aggressive, and they may have difficulty recognizing friends and relatives. People with late stage disease may lose control of their bladder and of other physical functions. At present, there is no cure for AD, although some of its symptoms can be managed with drugs. Most people with AD are initially cared for at home by relatives and other caregivers, but many affected individuals end their days in a care home or specialist nursing home.
Why Was This Study Done?
Researchers are interested in identifying risk factors for AD, particularly modifiable risk factors, because if such risk factors exist, it might be possible to limit the predicted increase in future AD cases. Epidemiological studies (investigations that examine patterns of disease in populations) have identified several potential risk factors for AD, including hypertension (high blood pressure), obesity, smoking, and dyslipidemia (changes in how the body handles fats). However, epidemiological studies cannot prove that a specific risk factor causes AD. For example, people with hypertension might share another characteristic that causes both hypertension and AD (confounding) or AD might cause hypertension (reverse causation). Information on causality is needed to decide which risk factors to target to help prevent AD. Here, the researchers use “Mendelian randomization” to examine whether differences in several epidemiologically identified risk factors for AD have a causal impact on AD risk. In Mendelian randomization, causal associations are inferred from the effects of genetic variants (which predict levels of modifiable risk factors) on the outcome of interest. Because gene variants are inherited randomly, they are not prone to confounding and are free from reverse causation. So, if hypertension actually causes AD, genetic variants that affect hypertension should be associated with an altered risk of AD.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers identified causal associations between potentially modifiable risk factors and AD risk by analyzing the occurrence of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs, a type of gene variant) known to predict levels of each risk factor, in genetic data from 17,008 individuals with AD and 37,154 cognitively normal elderly controls collected by the International Genomics of Alzheimer’s Project. They report that genetically predicted higher systolic blood pressure (SBP; the pressure exerted on the inside of large blood vessels when the heart is pumping out blood) was associated with lower AD risk (and with a higher probability of taking antihypertensive medication). Predicted smoking quantity was also associated with lower AD risk, but there was no evidence of causal associations between any of the other risk factors investigated and AD risk.
What Do These Findings Mean?
In contrast to some epidemiological studies, these findings suggest that hypertension is associated with lower AD risk. However, because genetically predicted higher SBP was also associated with a higher probability of taking antihypertensive medication, it could be that exposure to such drugs, rather than having hypertension, reduces AD risk. Like all Mendelian randomization studies, the reliability of these findings depends on the validity of several assumptions made by the researchers and on the ability of the SNPs used in the analyses to explain variations in exposure to the various risk factors. Moreover, because all the participants in the International Genomics of Alzheimer’s Project are of European ancestry, these findings may not be valid for other ethnic groups. Given that hypertension is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, the researchers do not advocate raising blood pressure as a measure to prevent AD (neither do they advocate that people smoke more cigarettes to lower AD risk). Rather, given the strong association between higher SBP gene scores and the probability of exposure to antihypertensive treatment, they suggest that the possibility that antihypertensive drugs might reduce AD risk independently of their effects on blood pressure should be investigated as a priority.
Additional Information
This list of resources contains links that can be accessed when viewing the PDF on a device or via the online version of the article at
The UK National Health Service Choices website provides information (including personal stories) about Alzheimer disease
The UK not-for-profit organization Alzheimer’s Society provides information for patients and carers about dementia, including personal experiences of living with Alzheimer disease
The US not-for-profit organization Alzheimer’s Association also provides information for patients and carers about dementia and personal stories about dementia
Alzheimer’s Disease International is the federation of Alzheimer disease associations around the world; it provides links to individual Alzheimer associations, information about dementia, and links to world Alzheimer reports
MedlinePlus provides links to additional resources about Alzheimer disease (in English and Spanish)
Wikipedia has a page on Mendelian randomization (note: Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit; available in several languages)
A PLOS Medicine Research Article by Proitsi et al. describes a Mendelian randomization study that looked for a causal association between dyslipidemia and Alzheimer disease
PMCID: PMC4469461  PMID: 26079503
2.  Comparing test-specific distress of susceptibility versus deterministic genetic testing for Alzheimer’s disease 
Genetic risk for Alzheimer’s disease (AD) may be conferred by the susceptibility polymorphism apolipoprotein E (APOE), where the ε4 allele increases the risk of developing late-onset Alzheimer’s disease but is not a definitive predictor of the disease, or by autosomal dominant mutations (e.g., the presenilins), which almost inevitably result in early-onset familial Alzheimer’s disease. The purpose of this study was to compare the psychological impact of using these two different types of genetic information to disclose genetic risk for AD to family members of affected patients.
Data were compared from two separate protocols. The Risk Evaluation and Education for Alzheimer’s Disease (REVEAL) Study is a randomized, multi-site clinical trial that evaluated the impact of susceptibility testing for Alzheimer’s disease with APOE in 101 adult children of Alzheimer’s disease patients. A separate study, conducted at the University of Washington, assessed the impact of deterministic genetic testing by disclosing presenilin-1, presenilin-2, or TAU genotype to 22 individuals at risk for familial Alzheimer’s disease or frontotemporal dementia. In both protocols, participants received genetic counseling and completed the Impact of Event Scale (IES), a measure of test-specific distress. Scores were analyzed at the time point closest to one year post-disclosure at which IES data were available. The role of genetic test result (positive vs. negative) and type of genetic testing (deterministic vs. susceptibility) in predicting log-transformed IES scores was assessed with linear regression, controlling for age, gender, and time from disclosure.
Subjects from the REVEAL Study who learned that they were positive for the susceptibility gene APOE ε4+ experienced similar, low levels of test-specific distress compared to those who received positive results of deterministic testing in the University of Washington study (p= 0.78). APOE ε4+ individuals in the susceptibility protocol experienced more test-specific distress than those who tested ε4− in the same study (p= 0.04); however, among those receiving deterministic test disclosure, the subjects who received positive results did not experience significantly higher levels of distress when compared to those who received negative results (p= 0.88).
The findings of this preliminary study, with limited sample size, suggest that the test-related distress experienced by those receiving positive results for a deterministic mutation is similar to the distress experienced by those receiving positive results from genetic susceptibility testing, and that the majority of participants receiving genotype disclosure do not experience clinically significant distress as indicated by IES scores one year after learning of their test results.
PMCID: PMC2610442  PMID: 19012865
genetic susceptibility testing; deterministic testing; Alzheimer’s disease; APOE; genetic counseling
3.  Genetic Predisposition to Increased Blood Cholesterol and Triglyceride Lipid Levels and Risk of Alzheimer Disease: A Mendelian Randomization Analysis 
PLoS Medicine  2014;11(9):e1001713.
In this study, Proitsi and colleagues use a Mendelian randomization approach to dissect the causal nature of the association between circulating lipid levels and late onset Alzheimer's Disease (LOAD) and find that genetic predisposition to increased plasma cholesterol and triglyceride lipid levels is not associated with elevated LOAD risk.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Although altered lipid metabolism has been extensively implicated in the pathogenesis of Alzheimer disease (AD) through cell biological, epidemiological, and genetic studies, the molecular mechanisms linking cholesterol and AD pathology are still not well understood and contradictory results have been reported. We have used a Mendelian randomization approach to dissect the causal nature of the association between circulating lipid levels and late onset AD (LOAD) and test the hypothesis that genetically raised lipid levels increase the risk of LOAD.
Methods and Findings
We included 3,914 patients with LOAD, 1,675 older individuals without LOAD, and 4,989 individuals from the general population from six genome wide studies drawn from a white population (total n = 10,578). We constructed weighted genotype risk scores (GRSs) for four blood lipid phenotypes (high-density lipoprotein cholesterol [HDL-c], low-density lipoprotein cholesterol [LDL-c], triglycerides, and total cholesterol) using well-established SNPs in 157 loci for blood lipids reported by Willer and colleagues (2013). Both full GRSs using all SNPs associated with each trait at p<5×10−8 and trait specific scores using SNPs associated exclusively with each trait at p<5×10−8 were developed. We used logistic regression to investigate whether the GRSs were associated with LOAD in each study and results were combined together by meta-analysis. We found no association between any of the full GRSs and LOAD (meta-analysis results: odds ratio [OR] = 1.005, 95% CI 0.82–1.24, p = 0.962 per 1 unit increase in HDL-c; OR = 0.901, 95% CI 0.65–1.25, p = 0.530 per 1 unit increase in LDL-c; OR = 1.104, 95% CI 0.89–1.37, p = 0.362 per 1 unit increase in triglycerides; and OR = 0.954, 95% CI 0.76–1.21, p = 0.688 per 1 unit increase in total cholesterol). Results for the trait specific scores were similar; however, the trait specific scores explained much smaller phenotypic variance.
Genetic predisposition to increased blood cholesterol and triglyceride lipid levels is not associated with elevated LOAD risk. The observed epidemiological associations between abnormal lipid levels and LOAD risk could therefore be attributed to the result of biological pleiotropy or could be secondary to LOAD. Limitations of this study include the small proportion of lipid variance explained by the GRS, biases in case-control ascertainment, and the limitations implicit to Mendelian randomization studies. Future studies should focus on larger LOAD datasets with longitudinal sampled peripheral lipid measures and other markers of lipid metabolism, which have been shown to be altered in LOAD.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Currently, about 44 million people worldwide have dementia, a group of brain disorders characterized by an irreversible decline in memory, communication, and other “cognitive” functions. Dementia mainly affects older people and, because people are living longer, experts estimate that more than 135 million people will have dementia by 2050. The commonest form of dementia is Alzheimer disease. In this type of dementia, protein clumps called plaques and neurofibrillary tangles form in the brain and cause its degeneration. The earliest sign of Alzheimer disease is usually increasing forgetfulness. As the disease progresses, affected individuals gradually lose their ability to deal with normal daily activities such as dressing. They may become anxious or aggressive or begin to wander. They may also eventually lose control of their bladder and of other physical functions. At present, there is no cure for Alzheimer disease although some of its symptoms can be managed with drugs. Most people with the disease are initially cared for at home by relatives and other unpaid carers, but many patients end their days in a care home or specialist nursing home.
Why Was This Study Done?
Several lines of evidence suggest that lipid metabolism (how the body handles cholesterol and other fats) is altered in patients whose Alzheimer disease develops after the age of 60 years (late onset Alzheimer disease, LOAD). In particular, epidemiological studies (observational investigations that examine the patterns and causes of disease in populations) have found an association between high amounts of cholesterol in the blood in midlife and the risk of LOAD. However, observational studies cannot prove that abnormal lipid metabolism (dyslipidemia) causes LOAD. People with dyslipidemia may share other characteristics that cause both dyslipidemia and LOAD (confounding) or LOAD might actually cause dyslipidemia (reverse causation). Here, the researchers use “Mendelian randomization” to examine whether lifetime changes in lipid metabolism caused by genes have a causal impact on LOAD risk. In Mendelian randomization, causality is inferred from associations between genetic variants that mimic the effect of a modifiable risk factor and the outcome of interest. Because gene variants are inherited randomly, they are not prone to confounding and are free from reverse causation. So, if dyslipidemia causes LOAD, genetic variants that affect lipid metabolism should be associated with an altered risk of LOAD.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers investigated whether genetic predisposition to raised lipid levels increased the risk of LOAD in 10,578 participants (3,914 patients with LOAD, 1,675 elderly people without LOAD, and 4,989 population controls) using data collected in six genome wide studies looking for gene variants associated with Alzheimer disease. The researchers constructed a genotype risk score (GRS) for each participant using genetic risk markers for four types of blood lipids on the basis of the presence of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs, a type of gene variant) in their DNA. When the researchers used statistical methods to investigate the association between the GRS and LOAD among all the study participants, they found no association between the GRS and LOAD.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that the genetic predisposition to raised blood levels of four types of lipid is not causally associated with LOAD risk. The accuracy of this finding may be affected by several limitations of this study, including the small proportion of lipid variance explained by the GRS and the validity of several assumptions that underlie all Mendelian randomization studies. Moreover, because all the participants in this study were white, these findings may not apply to people of other ethnic backgrounds. Given their findings, the researchers suggest that the observed epidemiological associations between abnormal lipid levels in the blood and variation in lipid levels for reasons other than genetics, or to LOAD risk could be secondary to variation in lipid levels for reasons other than genetics, or to LOAD, a possibility that can be investigated by studying blood lipid levels and other markers of lipid metabolism over time in large groups of patients with LOAD. Importantly, however, these findings provide new information about the role of lipids in LOAD development that may eventually lead to new therapeutic and public-health interventions for Alzheimer disease.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at
The UK National Health Service Choices website provides information (including personal stories) about Alzheimer's disease
The UK not-for-profit organization Alzheimer's Society provides information for patients and carers about dementia, including personal experiences of living with Alzheimer's disease
The US not-for-profit organization Alzheimer's Association also provides information for patients and carers about dementia and personal stories about dementia
Alzheimer's Disease International is the international federation of Alzheimer disease associations around the world; it provides links to individual associations, information about dementia, and links to World Alzheimer Reports
MedlinePlus provides links to additional resources about Alzheimer's disease (in English and Spanish)
Wikipedia has a page on Mendelian randomization (note: Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit; available in several languages)
PMCID: PMC4165594  PMID: 25226301
4.  HHEX_23 AA Genotype Exacerbates Effect of Diabetes on Dementia and Alzheimer Disease: A Population-Based Longitudinal Study 
PLoS Medicine  2015;12(7):e1001853.
Research has suggested that variations within the IDE/HHEX gene region may underlie the association of type 2 diabetes with Alzheimer disease (AD). We sought to explore whether IDE genes play a role in the association of diabetes with dementia, AD, and structural brain changes using data from two community-based cohorts of older adults and a subsample with structural MRI.
Methods and Findings
The first cohort, which included dementia-free adults aged ≥75 y (n = 970) at baseline, was followed for 9 y to detect incident dementia (n = 358) and AD (n = 271) cases. The second cohort (for replication), which included 2,060 dementia-free participants aged ≥60 y at baseline, was followed for 6 y to identify incident dementia (n = 166) and AD (n = 121) cases. A subsample (n = 338) of dementia-free participants from the second cohort underwent MRI. HHEX_23 and IDE_9 were genotyped, and diabetes (here including type 2 diabetes and prediabetes) was assessed. In the first cohort, diabetes led to an adjusted hazard ratio (HR) of 1.73 (95% CI 1.19–2.32) and 1.66 (95% CI 1.06–2.40) for dementia and AD, respectively, among all participants. Compared to people carrying the GG genotype without diabetes, AA genotype carriers with diabetes had an adjusted HR of 5.54 (95% CI 2.40–7.18) and 4.81 (95% CI 1.88–8.50) for dementia and AD, respectively. There was a significant interaction between HHEX_23-AA and diabetes on dementia (HR 4.79, 95% CI 1.63–8.90, p = 0.013) and AD (HR 3.55, 95% CI 1.45–9.91, p = 0.025) compared to the GG genotype without diabetes. In the second cohort, the HRs were 1.68 (95% CI 1.04–2.99) and 1.64 (1.02–2.33) for the diabetes–AD and dementia–AD associations, respectively, and 4.06 (95% CI 1.06–7.58, p = 0.039) and 3.29 (95% CI 1.02–8.33, p = 0.044) for the interactions, respectively. MRI data showed that HHEX_23-AA carriers with diabetes had significant structural brain changes compared to HHEX_23-GG carriers without diabetes. No joint effects of IDE_9 and diabetes on dementia were shown. As a limitation, the sample sizes were small for certain subgroups.
A variant in the HHEX_23 gene interacts with diabetes to be associated with a substantially increased risk of dementia and AD, and with structural brain changes among dementia-free elderly people.
In a longitudinal study, Weili Xu and colleagues explore whether variants in two insulin pathway genes modify the association of type 2 diabetes with dementia and AD.
Editors' Summary
Worldwide, about 44 million people have dementia, a group of degenerative, incurable brain disorders that mainly affect older people. Dementia is characterized by an irreversible decline in memory, communication, and other “cognitive” functions. The most common forms of dementia are Alzheimer disease, which is caused by the development of small clumps of proteins (β-amyloid plaques) around brain cells, and vascular dementia, which is caused by reduced blood flow to parts of the brain. Early symptoms of dementia include increasing forgetfulness and losing track of time. As the condition progresses, affected individuals gradually lose the ability to look after themselves and to communicate, and they may become anxious or aggressive. Eventually, affected individuals may lose control of various physical functions and many become totally dependent on specialist nurses and other professional carers for their day-to-day needs.
Why Was This Study Done?
Epidemiological studies (investigations that examine patterns of disease in populations) suggest that, among older individuals, having type 2 diabetes (a condition in which resistance to the hormone insulin leads to high blood sugar levels) is associated with a 50% increased risk of developing dementia. Even prediabetes (a blood sugar level that is high but not high enough to meet the criteria for diabetes) is associated with an increased risk of dementia. Prediabetes and diabetes increase the risk of vascular disease, but it is thought that polymorphisms (naturally occurring genetic variations) in the IDE/HHEX region of the human genome may be involved in the association between diabetes and dementia/Alzheimer disease. IDE encodes insulin-degrading enzyme, which clears insulin from cells but also degrades β-amyloid; HHEX encodes a transcription factor that controls IDE expression. In this population-based longitudinal study, the researchers explore whether two single nucleotide polymorphisms in this region—IDE_9 and HHEX_23—impact the association between diabetes and dementia. Population-based longitudinal studies measure the baseline characteristics of individuals in the general population and determine which individuals subsequently develop specific conditions.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
For their study, the researchers examined data collected from two cohorts (groups) of dementia-free elderly adults living in Stockholm, Sweden. Blood samples taken from 3,030 participants at baseline were used to determine which individuals had diabetes (type 2 diabetes or prediabetes) and to investigate which HHEX_23 and IDE_9 variants each individual carried (genotyping). The researchers also examined the brain structure of a subsample of the second cohort using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). All the participants were followed for several years to see which individuals developed dementia/Alzheimer disease. In both cohorts, having diabetes was associated with a 60% increased risk of dementia/Alzheimer disease after adjusting for other characteristics that affect the development of these conditions. Pooled data from both cohorts indicated that, compared to people without diabetes carrying HHEX_23-GG (the human genome contains two copies [alleles] of each gene, and an individual carrying HHEX_23-GG has the nucleotide guanine at a particular position in both HHEX_23 copies), people with diabetes carrying HHEX_23-AA (adenine at that position in both HHEX_23 copies) had a 5-fold higher risk of developing dementia/Alzheimer disease. Other analyses indicated that the HHEX_23-AA genotype interacted with diabetes to substantially increase the risk of dementia/Alzheimer disease. Finally, MRI showed that, at baseline, HHEX_23-AA carriers with diabetes had structural brain changes compared to HHEX_23-GG carriers without diabetes, even though they were all free of dementia at the time.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These and other findings indicate that polymorphisms in HHEX_23, but not IDE_9, are involved in the association between diabetes, dementia, and structural brain changes. Thus, a genetic variant in HHEX_23 may play an important role in the development of Alzheimer disease and other forms of dementia among people with diabetes or prediabetes. These findings may not apply to younger or rural populations, and their accuracy may be affected by the use of a single blood sugar level reading to diagnose diabetes and prediabetes. Moreover, because some of the genotype/diabetes subgroups contained very few people, these findings need to be confirmed in additional studies. Further studies are also needed to understand the role of HHEX_23 in the association between diabetes and dementia. Importantly, however, these findings highlight the need to control diabetes to prevent the development of Alzheimer disease and other forms of dementia, particularly among HHEX_23-AA carriers.
Additional Information
This list of resources contains links that can be accessed when viewing the PDF on a device or via the online version of the article at
The UK National Health Service Choices website provides information (including personal stories and links to additional resources) about dementia, vascular dementia, Alzheimer disease, and diabetes
The UK not-for-profit organization Alzheimer’s Society provides information for patients and carers about dementia, including personal experiences of dementia
The US not-for-profit organization Alzheimer’s Association also provides information for patients and carers about dementia, personal stories about dementia, and information about the association between diabetes and dementia
Alzheimer’s Disease International is the federation of Alzheimer disease associations around the world; it provides links to individual Alzheimer disease associations, information about dementia, and links to World Alzheimer Reports
MedlinePlus provides links to additional resources about dementia, Alzheimer disease, vascular dementia, and diabetes (in English and Spanish)
More information about the Kungsholmen Project and the Swedish National Study on Aging and Care–Kungsholmen, the projects that enrolled the cohorts used by the researchers for this study, is available
PMCID: PMC4501827  PMID: 26173052
5.  Dementia risk factors for Australian baby boomers 
Neurology International  2010;2(1):e13.
Baby boomers are individuals born in the years 1946 to 1965. The objective of this paper was to define the risk factors for dementia and Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and their relevance to Australian baby boomers, with the aim of providing evidence-based guidelines for dementia prevention. A series of PubMed searches (1994–2010) were conducted with relevant key words. Data was included from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) in relation to baby boomers in Australia. Article titles and abstracts were assessed by two reviewers for inclusion. Searches through ABS revealed no specific study on baby boomers at a national level; information was only available for Western Australia, South Australia and Queensland. A number of genetic and non-genetic risk factors for dementia were identified most of which remain controversial and require further study. We did not identify significant differences in the prevalence and incidence of dementia in those under 65 years in Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia. There were no correlations of risk factors and dementia between the Australian states. Modification of risk factors has not been proven to reduce the incidence and prevalence of dementia and AD in baby boomers. Nevertheless, on available evidence, we recommend: i) active management of cardiovascular risk factors such as hypertension; ii) the encouragement of a healthy lifestyle (eg, weight reduction, exercise) as offering the best pathways to reduce the emerging dementia risk for baby boomers. The implications are that activities promoting a healthy heart might lead to a healthy brain and help to prevent dementia.
PMCID: PMC3093216  PMID: 21577336
dementia; Alzheimer’s disease; baby boomers; evidence-based guidelines.
6.  A meta-analysis of prospective studies on the role of physical activity and the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease in older adults 
BMC Geriatrics  2015;15:9.
The incidence of Alzheimer’s disease is increasing as the global population ages. Given the limited success of pharmaceuticals in preventing this disease, a greater emphasis on non-pharmaceutical approaches is needed. The aim of this study was to quantify the association between Alzheimer’s disease and physical activity in older adults over the age of 65 years.
A meta-analytic approach was used to determine if physical activity reduced the risk of Alzheimer’s disease in individuals 65 years or older. Some evidence indicates that physical activity may improve cognitive function in older adults, while other evidence is inconclusive. The purpose of this study was to examine if prevention of Alzheimer’s disease is possible if started at a later age. The precise brain changes that occur with the onset of Alzheimer’s disease are not fully known, and therefore may still be influenced by preventative measures even in advancing age. Determining if physical activity can inhibit the onset of the disease at any age may motivate individuals to adopt an “it’s never too late” mentality on preventing the onset of this debilitating disease. Longitudinal studies of participants who were 65 years or older at baseline were included. A total of 20,326 participants from nine studies were included in this analysis.
The fixed effects risk ratio is estimated as 0.61 (95% CI 0.52-0.73) corresponding to a statistically significant overall reduction in risk of Alzheimer’s disease in physically active older adults compared to their non-active counterparts.
Physical activity was associated with a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease in adults over the age of 65 years. Given the limited treatment options, greater emphasis should be paid to primary prevention through physical activity amongst individuals at high-risk of Alzheimer’s disease, such as those with strong genetic and family history.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s12877-015-0007-2) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4333880  PMID: 25887627
Physical activity; Alzheimer’s disease; Older adults; Systematic review
7.  Use of an educational computer program before genetic counseling for breast cancer susceptibility: Effects on duration and content of counseling sessions 
Patients seeking genetic testing for inherited breast cancer risk are typically educated by genetic counselors; however, the growing demand for cancer genetic testing will likely exceed the availability of counselors trained in this area. We compared the effectiveness of counseling alone versus counseling preceded by use of a computer-based decision aid among women referred to genetic counseling for a family or personal history of breast cancer.
We developed and evaluated an interactive computer program that educates women about breast cancer, heredity, and genetic testing. Between May 2000 and September 2002, women at six study sites were randomized into either: Counselor Group (n = 105), who received standard genetic counseling, or Computer Group (n = 106), who used the interactive computer program before counseling. Clients and counselors both evaluated the effectiveness of counseling sessions, and counselors completed additional measures for the Computer Group. Counselors also recorded the duration of each session.
Baseline characteristics did not differ significantly between groups. Participants and counselors both rated the counseling sessions as highly effective, whether or not the sessions were preceded by computer use. Computer use resulted in significantly shorter counseling sessions among women at low risk for carrying BRCA1/2 mutations. In approximately half of the sessions preceded by clients’ computer use, counselors indicated that clients’ use of the computer program affected the way they used the time, shifting the focus away from basic education toward personal risk and decision-making.
This study shows that the interactive computer program “Breast Cancer Risk and Genetic Testing” is a valuable adjunct to genetic counseling. Its use before counseling can shorten counseling sessions and allow counselors to focus more on the clients’ individual risks and specific psychological concerns. As the demand for counseling services increases, a program such as this can play a valuable role in enhancing counseling efficiency.
PMCID: PMC1201432  PMID: 15834239
genetic counseling; breast cancer; decision aids; computer based education; genes BRCA1/2
8.  Exploration of transitional life events in individuals with Friedreich ataxia: Implications for genetic counseling 
Human development is a process of change, adaptation and growth. Throughout this process, transitional events mark important points in time when one's life course is significantly altered. This study captures transitional life events brought about or altered by Friedreich ataxia, a progressive chronic illness leading to disability, and the impact of these events on an affected individual's life course.
Forty-two adults with Friedreich ataxia (18-65y) were interviewed regarding their perceptions of transitional life events. Data from the interviews were coded and analyzed thematically using an iterative process.
Identified transitions were either a direct outcome of Friedreich ataxia, or a developmental event altered by having the condition. Specifically, an awareness of symptoms, fear of falling and changes in mobility status were the most salient themes from the experience of living with Friedreich ataxia. Developmental events primarily influenced by the condition were one's relationships and life's work.
Friedreich ataxia increased the complexity and magnitude of transitional events for study participants. Transitional events commonly represented significant loss and presented challenges to self-esteem and identity. Findings from this study help alert professionals of potentially challenging times in patients' lives, which are influenced by chronic illness or disability. Implications for developmental counseling approaches are suggested for genetic counseling.
Human development can be described in terms of key transitional events, or significant times of change. Transitional events initiate shifts in the meaning or direction of life and require the individual to develop skills or utilize coping strategies to adapt to a novel situation [1,2]. A successful transition has been defined as the development of a sense of mastery over the changed event [3].
Transitions can be influenced by a variety of factors including one's stage of development, such as graduation from high school, historical events, including war, and idiosyncratic factors, such as health status [4,5]. Of particular interest in the present study are transitional life events, brought about or altered by progressive chronic illness and disability, and the impact of these events on the lives of affected individuals.
It has been recognized that the clinical characteristics of a chronic illness or disability may alter the course and timing of many developmentally-related transitional events [6]. For example, conditions associated with a shortened lifespan may cause an individual to pursue a career with a shorter course of training [6]. Specific medical manifestations may also promote a lifestyle incongruent with developmental needs [6,7]. For example, an adolescent with a disability may have difficulty achieving autonomy because of his/her physical dependence on others.
In addition to the aforementioned effects of chronic illness and disability on developmentally-related transitional events, a growing body of literature has described disease-related transitional events: those changes that are a direct result of chronic illness and disability. Diagnosis has received attention as being a key disease-related transitional event [8,9]. Studies have also noted other disease transitions related to illness trajectory [10], as the clinical features of the disease may require the individual to make specific adaptations. Disease-related events have also been described in terms of accompanying psychological processes, such as one's awareness of differences brought about by illness [11].
While disease-related events are seemingly significant, the patient's perception of the events is varied. Some events may be perceived as positive experiences for the individual. For example, a diagnosis may end years of uncertainty. Some individuals may perceive these transitional events as insignificant, as they have accommodated to the continual change brought about by a chronic disease [12,13].
The aforementioned impact of disability and chronic illness on transitional events may create psychological stress. Developed by Lazarus and Folkman, the Transitional Model of Stress and Coping describes the process of adaptation to a health condition [14]. This model purports that individuals first appraise a stressor and then utilize a variety of coping strategies in order to meet the stressor's demands [14]. Thus, in the context of chronic illness, the ability of the individual to cope successfully with the stress of a health threat contributes to the process of overall adaptation to the condition.
The process of adaptation can be more complex when the chronic illness or disability is progressive. Each transition brought about or altered by the disability may also represent additional loss, including the loss of future plans, freedom in social life and the ability to participate in hobbies [15]. These losses may be accompanied by grief, uncertainty, and a continual need for adaptation [16,17].
Friedreich ataxia (FRDA) is one example of a progressive disorder, leading to adolescent and adult onset disability. To better understand patients' perceptions of key transitional events and the factors perceived to facilitate progression through these events, individuals with FRDA were interviewed.
FRDA is a rare, progressive, neurodegenerative disorder affecting approximately one in 30,000 people in the United States [18]. It equally affects both men and women. Individuals with FRDA experience progressive muscle weakness and loss of coordination in the arms and legs. For most patients, ataxia leads to motor incapacitation and full-time use of a wheelchair, commonly by the late teens or early twenties. Other complications such as vision and hearing impairment, dysarthria, scoliosis, diabetes mellitus and hypertrophic cardiomyopathy may occur [19,20]. Cardiomyopathy and respiratory difficulties often lead to premature death at an average age of 37 years [21]. Currently, there are no treatments or cures for FRDA. Little is known about the specific psychological or psychosocial effects of the condition.
FRDA is an autosomal recessive condition. The typical molecular basis of Friedreich ataxia is the expansion of a GAA trinucleotide repeat in both copies of the FXN gene [22]. Age of onset usually occurs in late childhood or early adolescence. However, the availability of genetic testing has identified affected individuals with an adult form of the condition. This late-onset form is thought to represent approximately 10-15% of the total FRDA population [23].
Health care providers of individuals with progressive, neurodegenerative disorders can help facilitate their patients' progression through transitional events. Data suggest that improvements should be made in the care of these individuals. Shaw et al. [24] found that individualized care that helps to prepare patients for transition is beneficial. Beisecker et al. [25] found that patients desire not only physical care from their providers, but also emotional and psychosocial support.
Genetic counselors have an important opportunity to help patients with neuromuscular disorders progress through transitional events, as several of these conditions have a genetic etiology. Genetic counselors in pediatric and adult settings often develop long-term relationships with patients, due to follow-up care. This extended relationship is becoming increasingly common as genetic counselors move into various medical sub-specialties, such as neurology, ophthalmology, oncology and cardiology.
The role of the genetic counselor in addressing the psychosocial needs of patients has been advocated, but rarely framed in the context of developmental events [26]. Data suggest that patients may not expect a genetic counselor to address psychosocial needs [27]. In a survey of genetic counseling patients, Wertz [28] found a majority of respondents understood genetic conditions to have a moderate to serious effect on family life and finances, while almost half perceived there to be an effect on the spouse, quality of life, and the relationship between home and work. However, these topics were reportedly not discussed within genetic counseling sessions [27,28]. Overall, there is limited information about the experiences of transitional life events in FRDA, as well as a lack of recommendations for genetic counselors and other health care providers to assist patients through these events.
Our study investigated perceptions of patients with Friedreich ataxia to 1) identify key transitional events and specific needs associated with events; 2) describe perception of factors to facilitate progression through the identified events; and 3) explore the actual or potential role of the health care provider in facilitating adaptation to the identified events. Data were used to make suggestions for developmental genetic counseling approaches in the context of ongoing care of clients with hereditary, progressive, neurodegenerative conditions.
PMCID: PMC2987979  PMID: 20979606
9.  Inverse association between cancer and Alzheimer’s disease: results from the Framingham Heart Study  
Objectives To relate cancer since entry into the Framingham Heart Study with the risk of incident Alzheimer’s disease and to estimate the risk of incident cancer among participants with and without Alzheimer’s disease.
Design Community based prospective cohort study; nested age and sex matched case-control study.
Setting Framingham Heart Study, USA.
Participants 1278 participants with and without a history of cancer who were aged 65 or more and free of dementia at baseline (1986-90).
Main outcome measures Hazard ratios and 95% confidence intervals for the risks of Alzheimer’s disease and cancer.
Results Over a mean follow-up of 10 years, 221 cases of probable Alzheimer’s disease were diagnosed. Cancer survivors had a lower risk of probable Alzheimer’s disease (hazard ratio 0.67, 95% confidence interval 0.47 to 0.97), adjusted for age, sex, and smoking. The risk was lower among survivors of smoking related cancers (0.26, 0.08 to 0.82) than among survivors of non-smoking related cancers (0.82, 0.57 to 1.19). In contrast with their decreased risk of Alzheimer’s disease, survivors of smoking related cancer had a substantially increased risk of stroke (2.18, 1.29 to 3.68). In the nested case-control analysis, participants with probable Alzheimer’s disease had a lower risk of subsequent cancer (0.39, 0.26 to 0.58) than reference participants, as did participants with any Alzheimer’s disease (0.38) and any dementia (0.44).
Conclusions Cancer survivors had a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease than those without cancer, and patients with Alzheimer’s disease had a lower risk of incident cancer. The risk of Alzheimer’s disease was lowest in survivors of smoking related cancers, and was not primarily explained by survival bias. This pattern for cancer is similar to that seen in Parkinson’s disease and suggests an inverse association between cancer and neurodegeneration.
PMCID: PMC3647385  PMID: 22411920
10.  Diagnosis and treatment of dementia: 1. Risk assessment and primary prevention of Alzheimer disease 
In addition to nonmodifiable genetic risk factors, potentially modifiable factors such as hypertension, hyperlipidemia and environmental exposures have been identified as risk factors for Alzheimer disease. In this article, we provide physicians with practical guidance on risk assessment and primary prevention of Alzheimer disease based on recommendations from the Third Canadian Consensus Conference on the Diagnosis and Treatment of Dementia, held in March 2006.
We developed evidence-based guidelines using systematic literature searches, with specific criteria for study selection and quality assessment, and a clear and transparent decision-making process. We selected studies published from January 1996 to December 2005 that met the following criteria: dementia (all-cause, Alzheimer disease or vascular dementia) as the outcome; longitudinal cohort study; study population broadly reflective of Canadian demographics; and genetic risk factors and general risk factors (e.g., hypertension, education, occupation and chemical exposure) identified. We graded the strength of evidence using the criteria of the Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care.
Of 3424 articles on potentially modifiable risk factors for dementia, 1719 met our inclusion criteria; 60 were deemed to be of good or fair quality. Of 1721 articles on genetic risk factors, 62 that met our inclusion criteria were deemed to be of good or fair quality. On the basis of evidence from these articles, we made recommendations for the risk assessment and primary prevention of Alzheimer disease. For the primary prevention of Alzheimer's disease, there is good evidence for controlling vascular risk factors, especially hypertension (grade A), and weak or insufficient evidence for manipulation of lifestyle factors and prescribing of medications (grade C). There is good evidence to avoid estrogens and high-dose (> 400 IU/d) of vitamin E for this purpose (grade E). Genetic counselling and testing may be offered to at-risk individuals with an apparent autosomal dominant inheritance (grade B). Screening for the apolipoprotein E genotype in asymptomatic individuals in the general population is not recommended (grade E).
Despite the personal and societal burden of dementia, our understanding of genetic predisposition to dementias and the contribution of other risk factors remains limited. More importantly, there are few data to explain the overall risks and benefits of prevention strategies or their impact of risk modification.
Articles to date in this seriesChertkow H. Diagnosis and treatment of dementia: Introduction. Introducing a series based on the Third Canadian Consensus Conference on the Diagnosis and Treatment of Dementia. CMAJ 2008;178:316-21.
PMCID: PMC2244657  PMID: 18299540
11.  Exploring Genetic Counselors’ Perceptions of and Attitudes Towards Schizophrenia 
Public health genomics  2009;13(1):21-26.
Schizophrenia is a common complex condition, for which no genetic testing is yet clinically available. Genetic counseling for psychiatric disorders is viewed by genetic counselors as a growth area, and to meet any increase in demand it is important to understand existing context. Thus, we surveyed general practice members of the National Society of Genetic Counselors, to examine perceptions and attitudes relating to schizophrenia. A total of 136 genetic counselors completed the survey, of whom 50% were engaged in general practice roles and therefore eligible to participate. Of these 40% reported “rarely” or “never” asking about psychiatric illness when taking a family history. Some respondents expressed concern that discussing genetics of schizophrenia and providing risk assessment with families may be more confusing or worrisome than helpful. Many counselors reported that patients feel frustrated with the inability of genetic counselors to provide individual risk calculations. It appears that genetic counselors are reluctant to ask patients about psychiatric illness, and are concerned that their services might not be helpful in the context of schizophrenia.
PMCID: PMC3706330  PMID: 19321939 CAMSID: cams3086
genetic counseling; psychiatric; schizophrenia; risk assessment; family history
12.  Estimating and disclosing the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease: challenges, controversies and future directions 
Future neurology  2010;5(4):501-517.
With Alzheimer’s disease increasing in prevalence and public awareness, more people are becoming interested in learning their chances of developing this condition. Disclosing Alzheimer’s disease risk has been discouraged because of the limited predictive value of available tests, lack of prevention and treatment options, and concerns regarding potential psychological and social harms. However, challenges to this status quo include the availability of direct-to-consumer health risk information (e.g., genetic susceptibility tests), as well as a growing literature suggesting that people seeking risk information for Alzheimer’s disease through formal education and counseling protocols generally find it useful and do not experience adverse effects. This paper reviews current and potential methods of risk assessment for Alzheimer’s disease, discusses the process and impact of disclosing risk to interested patients and consumers, and considers the practical and ethical challenges in this emerging area. Anticipated future directions are addressed.
PMCID: PMC2941213  PMID: 20856693
Alzheimer’s disease; genetic testing; risk assessment; risk communication
13.  Cholinesterase Inhibitors and Hospitalization for Bradycardia: A Population-Based Study 
PLoS Medicine  2009;6(9):e1000157.
Laura Park-Wyllie and colleagues examined the health records of more than 1.4 million older adults and show that initiation of cholinesterase inhibitor therapy is associated with a more than doubling of the risk of hospitalization for bradycardia.
Cholinesterase inhibitors are commonly used to treat dementia. These drugs enhance the effects of acetylcholine, and reports suggest they may precipitate bradycardia in some patients. We aimed to examine the association between use of cholinesterase inhibitors and hospitalization for bradycardia.
Methods and Findings
We examined the health care records of more than 1.4 million older adults using a case-time-control design, allowing each individual to serve as his or her own control. Case patients were residents of Ontario, Canada, aged 67 y or older hospitalized for bradycardia between January 1, 2003 and March 31, 2008. Control patients (3∶1) were not hospitalized for bradycardia, and were matched to the corresponding case on age, sex, and a disease risk index. All patients had received cholinesterase inhibitor therapy in the 9 mo preceding the index hospitalization. We identified 1,009 community-dwelling older persons hospitalized for bradycardia within 9 mo of using a cholinesterase inhibitor. Of these, 161 cases informed the matched analysis of discordant pairs. Of these, 17 (11%) required a pacemaker during hospitalization, and six (4%) died prior to discharge. After adjusting for temporal changes in drug utilization, hospitalization for bradycardia was associated with recent initiation of a cholinesterase inhibitor (adjusted odds ratio [OR] 2.13, 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.29–3.51). The risk was similar among individuals with pre-existing cardiac disease (adjusted OR 2.25, 95% CI 1.18–4.28) and those receiving negative chronotropic drugs (adjusted OR 2.34, 95% CI 1.16–4.71). We found no such association when we replicated the analysis using proton pump inhibitors as a neutral exposure. Despite hospitalization for bradycardia, more than half of the patients (78 of 138 cases [57%]) who survived to discharge subsequently resumed cholinesterase inhibitor therapy.
Among older patients, initiation of cholinesterase inhibitor therapy was associated with a more than doubling of the risk of hospitalization for bradycardia. Resumption of therapy following discharge was common, suggesting that the cardiovascular toxicity of cholinesterase inhibitors is underappreciated by clinicians.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Alzheimer disease and other forms of dementia principally affect people aged over 65. These conditions result in confusion, long term memory loss, irritability, and mood swings. As the population of developed countries ages, the prevalence of dementia is expected to increase significantly. It is forecast that the proportion of people with dementia in the US will quadruple by 2045.
A common treatment for Alzheimer disease is a class of drug called an acetylcholinesterase inhibitor or cholinesterase inhibitor. These include donepezil (brand name Aricept), rivastigmine (marketed as Exelon and Exelon Patch), and galantamine (branded Razadyne).
The benefit of taking cholinesterase inhibitors is generally small and they cannot reverse the effects of dementia. In about 50% of patients they delay the worsening of symptoms for between six months and a year, although a small number of patients may benefit more. They can have unpleasant side effects, which may include diarrhoea and muscle cramps.
Why Was This Study Done?
Existing evidence is inconclusive on whether cholinesterase inhibitors increase the risk of bradycardia, an abnormally slow resting heart rate of below 60 beats a minute, which can cause fatigue, dizziness, fainting, palpitations, shortness of breath, or death. In this paper, the authors use routinely collected health care data to investigate whether an older person taking a cholinesterase inhibitor is at increased risk of bradycardia.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
They began by supposing that cholinesterase inhibitors might induce bradycardia soon after a patient first began to take them. To investigate this, they obtained health care data on 1.4 million patients aged 67 or over in Ontario, Canada. They identified 161 patients who had visited a hospital for bradycardia and who had previously taken a cholinesterase inhibitor only within specific periods of time. They found that 139 had taken a cholinesterase inhibitor within the previous three months compared with 22 who had stopped taking it at least six months before.
They compared these cases with up to three “control” patients who matched each of the initial “case” group of 161 patients by age, sex, and risk of bradycardia on the basis of their general health. None of the 466 controls had visited a hospital for bradycardia by the “index date,” that is, the date of hospitalization of the case patient they matched. The researchers found 349 of the control patients had begun to take a cholinesterase inhibitor in the three months prior to the index date, compared with 117 who had stopped taking it at least six months before. A statistical analysis of these data showed that recent initiation of cholinesterase inhibitors was associated with approximately a doubling of the risk of hospitalization for bradycardia.
The authors repeated their procedure to see whether another class of drug, proton pump inhibitors, had a similar effect. As they had expected, it did not. They repeated the analysis for patients taking into account other drugs that slow the heart rate and found that their increased risk of bradycardia when taking a cholinesterase inhibitor persisted. The increase in risk was also similar in patients with pre-existing heart problems.
The researchers' data also showed that, excluding patients who while in the hospital had a pacemaker fitted to control their heart rate, over half of the patients released from hospital started taking a cholinesterase inhibitor again. Of these, a few returned to hospital with bradycardia within 100 days.
What Do These Findings Mean?
Recent guidelines suggest that doctors should not prescribe cholinesterase inhibitors for dementia patients as a matter of course, but weigh the potential risks and benefits. This paper provides evidence of an additional risk, of which at least some doctors are unaware. It was not possible to compare risk for different cholinesterase inhibitors because most patients took donepezil.
A population-based study like this cannot prove that cholinesterase inhibitors cause bradycardia. The authors used routinely collected data and so did not have information on all relevant risk factors, and thus there remains a possibility of bias due to unmeasured factors. In addition the authors had to make assumptions, for instance that patients took the drugs prescribed for them. They also considered only diagnoses of bradycardia made by a hospital doctor and not those made elsewhere, which means the incidence of bradycardia may have been underestimated. A strength of the study is the use of a case-time-control design, which has the advantage of reducing bias due to the different health conditions and lifestyle of individual patients, and also bias due to factors changing over time.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
Wikipedia contains information on Alzheimer disease (note that Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit; available in several languages)
Information on bradycardia and its causes can be found in Wikipedia (note that Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit; available in several languages)
The UKs National Health Service provides information on dementia, including symptoms, causes, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention
MedlinePlus provides US-based health information (in English and Spanish)
The US National Institute on Aging provides information on health, relevant to older people, including Alzheimer Disease and dementia (in English and Spanish)
The US Alzheimers Association contains useful information on the disease, including on medication
The Public Health Agency of Canada website provides information on senior health (in English and French)
The UK-based Alzheimers Society provides advice on caring for people with dementia
PMCID: PMC2742897  PMID: 19787032
14.  Cardiovascular and Cerebrovascular Events in the Randomized, Controlled Alzheimer's Disease Anti-Inflammatory Prevention Trial (ADAPT) 
PLoS Clinical Trials  2006;1(7):e33.
The Alzheimer's Disease Anti-inflammatory Prevention Trial (ADAPT) was designed to evaluate the conventional NSAID naproxen sodium and the selective COX-2 inhibitor celecoxib for primary prevention of Alzheimer's dementia (AD). On 17 December 2004, after the Adenoma Prevention with Celecoxib (APC) trial reported increased cardiovascular risks with celecoxib, the ADAPT Steering Committee suspended treatment and enrollment. This paper reports on cardiovascular and cerebrovascular events in ADAPT.
ADAPT is a randomized, placebo-controlled, parallel chemoprevention trial with 1–46 mo of follow-up.
The trial was conducted at six field sites in the United States: Baltimore, Maryland; Boston, Massachusetts; Rochester, New York; Seattle, Washington; Sun City, Arizona; and Tampa, Florida.
The 2,528 participants were aged 70 y and older with a family history of AD.
Study treatments were celecoxib (200 mg b.i.d.), naproxen sodium (220 mg b.i.d.), and placebo.
Outcome measures:
Outcome measures were deaths, along with nonfatal myocardial infarction (MI), stroke, congestive heart failure (CHF), transient ischemic attack (TIA), and antihypertensive treatment recorded from structured interviews at scheduled intervals. Cox proportional hazards regression was used to analyze these events individually and in several composites.
Counts (with 3-y incidence) of participants who experienced cardiovascular or cerebrovascular death, MI, stroke, CHF, or TIA in the celecoxib-, naproxen-, and placebo-treated groups were 28/717 (5.54%), 40/713 (8.25%), and 37/1070 (5.68%), respectively. This yielded a hazard ratio (95% confidence interval [CI]) for celecoxib of 1.10 (0.67–1.79) and for naproxen of 1.63 (1.04–2.55). Antihypertensive treatment was initiated in 160/440 (47.43%), 147/427 (45.00%), and 164/644 (34.08%). This yielded hazard ratios (CIs) of 1.56 for celecoxib (1.26–1.94) and 1.40 for naproxen (1.12–1.75).
For celecoxib, ADAPT data do not show the same level of risk as those of the APC trial. The data for naproxen, although not definitive, are suggestive of increased cardiovascular and cerebrovascular risk.
Editorial Commentary
Background: Evidence from observational studies suggests that people taking certain nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are at lower risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. However, in order to reliably find out whether NSAIDs reduce the risk of Alzheimer's, it is important to perform a properly designed randomized trial. Such a trial, ADAPT, was sponsored by the United States National Institute on Aging, and the study started recruitment in 2001. The trial involved three treatment arms: naproxen (one type of NSAID), celecoxib (another type of NSAID, but one that specifically inhibits an enzyme called COX-2), and placebo, acting as a control. It was planned that 2,625 participants would be recruited and that the primary outcome of interest was incidence of Alzheimer's disease in the three treatment arms; the trial would run for 7 y. However, this trial was terminated early, a decision based in part on information from other studies that demonstrated an increased risk of certain harms, such as heart attacks and strokes, in people taking celecoxib and other types of COX-2 inhibitors. Therefore meaningful data were not available at the time on the study's primary outcome (prevention of Alzheimer's disease). However, data about the chance of these harms are available from the ADAPT results, and these results are presented here.
What this trial shows: The investigators compared frequency of particular types of harm in the treatment arms: heart attack, stroke, congestive heart failure (CHF), and transient ischemic attack (TIA). For each individual type of event, some were more likely in people treated with celecoxib compared with placebo, but others were not. When considering people taking naproxen, all four types of adverse events were more likely to occur in the treatment group as compared to placebo. The investigators then combined data from all four types of harm together, and here they found that the overall risk in people taking celecoxib was higher than for people taking placebo, but that this was not statistically significant, so it could have been due to chance alone. When considering naproxen as compared with placebo, the researchers saw an approximately 60% increase in risk for all four harms combined, and this result was statistically significant. The death rate in people taking either celecoxib or naproxen was higher than for those taking placebo, but this was not statistically significant, and therefore could have been due to chance.
Strengths and limitations: Strengths of this study include the randomization procedures, which used a distributed computer system to assign patients to treatment arms (minimizing the chance of bias), blinding of patients to their treatment assignment, and blinding of the committee reviewing deaths and safety reports to treatment assignment. One limitation is that although the trial was large and appropriately powered for the main outcome (prevention of Alzheimer's disease), the number of safety events reported here were small and the trial was not primarily designed to examine safety. Further, participants eligible to join this trial were required to have a family history of Alzheimer's disease, so it is possible that their risk factors are slightly different from the general population.
Contribution to the evidence: The cardiovascular safety of NSAID's, including COX-2 inhibitors, is an intensely debated topic. Very few published data exist on the long-term safety of celecoxib as compared with placebo, although there are a number of as-yet-unpublished studies. These data on harms provided by ADAPT provide important results that should be incorporated into future meta-analyses. Such meta-analyses will give a more rigorous and reliable assessment of the safety of the drugs studied here.
PMCID: PMC1851724  PMID: 17111043
15.  Risk perception after genetic counseling in patients with increased risk of cancer 
Counselees are more aware of genetics and seek information, reassurance, screening and genetic testing. Risk counseling is a key component of genetic counseling process helping patients to achieve a realistic view for their own personal risk and therefore adapt to the medical, psychological and familial implications of disease and to encourage the patient to make informed choices [1,2].
The aim of this study was to conceptualize risk perception and anxiety about cancer in individuals attending to genetic counseling.
The questionnaire study measured risk perception and anxiety about cancer at three time points: before and one week after initial genetic counseling and one year after completed genetic investigations. Eligibility criteria were designed to include only index patients without a previous genetic consultation in the family. A total of 215 individuals were included. Data was collected during three years period.
Before genetic counseling all of the unaffected participants subjectively estimated their risk as higher than their objective risk. Participants with a similar risk as the population overestimated their risk most. All risk groups estimated the risk for children's/siblings to be lower than their own. The benefits of preventive surveillance program were well understood among unaffected participants.
The difference in subjective risk perception before and directly after genetic counseling was statistically significantly lower in all risk groups. Difference in risk perception for children as well as for population was also statistically significant. Experienced anxiety about developing cancer in the unaffected subjects was lower after genetic counseling compared to baseline in all groups. Anxiety about cancer had clear correlation to perceived risk of cancer before and one year after genetic investigations.
The affected participants overestimated their children's risk as well as risk for anyone in population. Difference in risk perception for children/siblings as for the general population was significant between the first and second measurement time points. Anxiety about developing cancer again among affected participants continued to be high throughout this investigation.
The participant's accuracy in risk perception was poor, especially in low risk individuals before genetic counseling. There was a general trend towards more accurate estimation in all risk groups after genetic counseling. The importance of preventive programs was well understood. Cancer anxiety was prevalent and associated with risk perception, but decreased after genetic counseling.
[1] National Society of Genetic Counselors (2005), Genetic Counseling as a Profession. Available at (accessed November 25th 2007)
[2] Julian-Reynier C., Welkenhuysen M-, Hagoel L., Decruyenaere M., Hopwood P. (2003) Risk communication strategies: state of the art and effectiveness in the context of cancer genetic services. Eur J of Human Genetics 11, 725-736.
PMCID: PMC2744911  PMID: 19698175
16.  Genetic susceptibility testing for neurodegenerative diseases: Ethical and practice issues 
Progress in neurobiology  2013;110:10.1016/j.pneurobio.2013.02.005.
As the genetics of neurodegenerative disease become better understood, opportunities for genetic susceptibility testing for at-risk individuals will increase. Such testing raises important ethical and practice issues related to test access, informed consent, risk estimation and communication, return of results, and policies to prevent genetic discrimination. The advent of direct-to-consumer genetic susceptibility testing for various neurodegenerative disorders (including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and certain prion diseases) means that ethical and practical challenges must be faced not only in traditional research and clinical settings, but also in broader society. This review addresses several topics relevant to the development and implementation of genetic susceptibility tests across research, clinical, and consumer settings; these include appropriate indications for testing, the implications of different methods for disclosing test results, clinical versus personal utility of risk information, psychological and behavioral responses to test results, testing of minors, genetic discrimination, and ethical dilemmas posed by whole-genome sequencing. We also identify future areas of likely growth in the field, including pharmacogenomics and genetic screening for individuals considering or engaged in activities that pose elevated risk of brain injury (e.g., football players, military personnel). APOE gene testing for risk of Alzheimer’s disease is used throughout as an instructive case example, drawing upon the authors’ experience as investigators in a series of multisite randomized clinical trials that have examined the impact of disclosing APOE genotype status to interested individuals (e.g., first-degree relatives, persons with mild cognitive impairment).
PMCID: PMC3772971  PMID: 23583530
Genetic testing; risk assessment; apolipoprotein E (APOE); ethics; genetic counseling
17.  Expanding Disease Definitions in Guidelines and Expert Panel Ties to Industry: A Cross-sectional Study of Common Conditions in the United States 
PLoS Medicine  2013;10(8):e1001500.
Financial ties between health professionals and industry may unduly influence professional judgments and some researchers have suggested that widening disease definitions may be one driver of over-diagnosis, bringing potentially unnecessary labeling and harm. We aimed to identify guidelines in which disease definitions were changed, to assess whether any proposed changes would increase the numbers of individuals considered to have the disease, whether potential harms of expanding disease definitions were investigated, and the extent of members' industry ties.
Methods and Findings
We undertook a cross-sectional study of the most recent publication between 2000 and 2013 from national and international guideline panels making decisions about definitions or diagnostic criteria for common conditions in the United States. We assessed whether proposed changes widened or narrowed disease definitions, rationales offered, mention of potential harms of those changes, and the nature and extent of disclosed ties between members and pharmaceutical or device companies.
Of 16 publications on 14 common conditions, ten proposed changes widening and one narrowing definitions. For five, impact was unclear. Widening fell into three categories: creating “pre-disease”; lowering diagnostic thresholds; and proposing earlier or different diagnostic methods. Rationales included standardising diagnostic criteria and new evidence about risks for people previously considered to not have the disease. No publication included rigorous assessment of potential harms of proposed changes.
Among 14 panels with disclosures, the average proportion of members with industry ties was 75%. Twelve were chaired by people with ties. For members with ties, the median number of companies to which they had ties was seven. Companies with ties to the highest proportions of members were active in the relevant therapeutic area. Limitations arise from reliance on only disclosed ties, and exclusion of conditions too broad to enable analysis of single panel publications.
For the common conditions studied, a majority of panels proposed changes to disease definitions that increased the number of individuals considered to have the disease, none reported rigorous assessment of potential harms of that widening, and most had a majority of members disclosing financial ties to pharmaceutical companies.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Health professionals generally base their diagnosis of physical and mental disorders among their patients on disease definitions and diagnostic thresholds that are drawn up by expert panels and published as statements or as part of clinical practice guidelines. These disease definitions and diagnostic thresholds are reviewed and updated in response to changes in disease detection methods, treatments, medical knowledge, and, in the case of mental illness, changes in cultural norms. Sometimes, the review process widens disease definitions and lowers diagnostic thresholds. Such changes can be beneficial. For example, they might ensure that life-threatening conditions are diagnosed early when they are still treatable. But the widening of disease definitions can also lead to over-diagnosis—the diagnosis of a condition in a healthy individual that will never cause any symptoms and won't lead to an early death. Over-diagnosis can unnecessarily label people as ill, harm healthy individuals by exposing them to treatments they do not need, and waste resources that could be used to treat or prevent “genuine” illness.
Why Was This Study Done?
In recent years, evidence for widespread financial and non-financial ties between pharmaceutical companies and the health professionals involved in writing clinical practice guidelines has increased, and concern that these links may influence professional judgments has grown. As a result, a 2011 report from the US Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommended that, whenever possible, guideline developers should not have conflicts of interest, that a minority of the panel members involved in guideline development should have conflicts of interest, and that the chairs of these panels should be free of conflicts. Much less is known, however, about the ties between industry and the health professionals involved in reviewing disease definitions and whether these ties might in some way contribute to over-diagnosis. In this cross-sectional study (an investigation that takes a snapshot of a situation at a single time point), the researchers identify panels that have recently made decisions about definitions or diagnostic thresholds for conditions that are common in the US and describe the industry ties among the panel members and the changes in disease definitions proposed by the panels.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers identified 16 publications in which expert panels proposed changes to the disease definitions and diagnostic criteria for 14 conditions that are common in the US such as hypertension (high blood pressure) and Alzheimer disease. The proposed changes widened the disease definition for ten diseases, narrowed it for one disease, and had an unclear impact for five diseases. Reasons included in the publications for changing disease definitions included new evidence of risk for people previously considered normal (pre-hypertension) and the emergence of new biomarkers, tests, or treatments (Alzheimer disease). Only six of the panels mentioned possible harms of the proposed changes and none appeared to rigorously assess the downsides of expanding definitions. Of the 15 panels involved in the publications (one panel produced two publications), 12 included members who disclosed financial ties to multiple companies. Notably, the commonest industrial ties among these panels were to companies marketing drugs for the disease being considered by that panel. On average, 75% of panel members disclosed industry ties (range 0% to 100%) to a median of seven companies each. Moreover, similar proportions of panel members disclosed industry ties in publications released before and after the 2011 IOM report.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings show that, for the conditions studied, most panels considering disease definitions and diagnostic criteria proposed changes that widened disease definitions and that financial ties with pharmaceutical companies with direct interests in the therapeutic area covered by the panel were common among panel members. Because this study does not include a comparison group, these findings do not establish a causal link between industry ties and proposals to change disease definitions. Moreover, because the study concentrates on a subset of common diseases in the US setting, the generalizability of these findings is limited. Despite these and other study limitations, these findings provide new information about the ties between industry and influential medical professionals and raise questions about the current processes of disease definition. Future research, the researchers suggest, should investigate how disease definitions change over time, how much money panel members receive from industry, and how panel proposals affect the potential market of sponsors. Finally it should aim to design new processes for reviewing disease definitions that are free from potential conflicts of interest.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
A PLOS Medicine Research Article by Knüppel et al. assesses the representation of ethical issues in general clinical practice guidelines on dementia care
Wikipedia has a page on medical diagnosis (note: Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit; available in several languages)
An article on over-diagnosis by two of the study authors is available; an international conference on preventing over-diagnosis will take place this September
The 2011 US Institute of Medicine report Clinical Practice Guidelines We Can Trust is available
A PLOS Medicine Essay by Lisa Cosgrove and Sheldon Krimsky discusses the financial ties with industry of panel members involved in the preparation of the latest revision of the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), which provides standard criteria for the classification of mental disorders
PMCID: PMC3742441  PMID: 23966841
18.  Genetically-controlled Vesicle-Associated Membrane Protein 1 expression may contribute to Alzheimer’s pathophysiology and susceptibility 
Alzheimer’s disease is a neurodegenerative disorder in which extracellular deposition of β-amyloid (Aβ) oligomers causes synaptic injury resulting in early memory loss, altered homeostasis, accumulation of hyperphosphorylated tau and cell death. Since proteins in the SNAP (Soluble N-ethylmaleimide-sensitive factor Attachment Protein) REceptors (SNARE) complex are essential for neuronal Aβ release at pre-synaptic terminals, we hypothesized that genetically controlled SNARE expression could alter neuronal Aß release at the synapse and hence play an early role in Alzheimer’s pathophysiology.
Here we report 5 polymorphisms in Vesicle-Associated Membrane Protein 1 (VAMP1), a gene encoding a member of the SNARE complex, associated with bidirectionally altered cerebellar VAMP1 transcript levels (all p < 0.05). At the functional level, we demonstrated that control of VAMP1 expression by heterogeneous knockdown in mice resulted in up to 74% reduction in neuronal Aβ exocytosis (p < 0.001). We performed a case-control association study of the 5 VAMP1 expression regulating polymorphisms in 4,667 Alzheimer’s disease patients and 6,175 controls to determine their contribution to Alzheimer’s disease risk. We found that polymorphisms associated with increased brain VAMP1 transcript levels conferred higher risk for Alzheimer’s disease than those associated with lower VAMP1 transcript levels (p = 0.03). Moreover, we also report a modest protective association for a common VAMP1 polymorphism with Alzheimer’s disease risk (OR = 0.88, p = 0.03). This polymorphism was associated with decreased VAMP1 transcript levels (p = 0.02) and was functionally active in a dual luciferase reporter gene assay (p < 0.01).
Genetically regulated VAMP1 expression in the brain may modify both Alzheimer’s disease risk and may contribute to Alzheimer’s pathophysiology.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s13024-015-0015-x) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4426163  PMID: 25881291
SNARE; Vesicle-Associated Membrane Protein 1; β-amyloid; Alzheimer’s disease; Synapse
19.  Real world experience with cancer genetic counseling via telephone 
Familial Cancer  2010;9(4):681-689.
One barrier to genetic testing is the lack of access to genetic counselors. We provided cancer genetic counseling via telephone, through a pilot project for employees of a national health insurer, Aetna, Inc. Knowledge transfer, behavioral intentions, and patient satisfaction were assessed by survey after genetic counseling. Aetna sent an individual email to its employees nationwide notifying them of the availability of a new telephone genetic counseling and testing program and providing a link to take a brief screening questionnaire to determine whether they may be at risk of hereditary cancer. Employees completing the questionnaire received immediate feedback regarding whether there appeared to be a risk of hereditary cancer. If so, they were invited to schedule a telephonic genetic counseling session. After the session, respondents completed an online survey. 397 individuals completed the questionnaire. 39 proceeded with telephone genetic counseling, and 22 completed the follow-up survey, including all 11 women with family history warranting genetic testing. One third reported prior discussion about inherited cancer risk with their primary care provider (PCP); 12% were referred to a geneticist; 20% had an accurate perception of their own cancer risk. After counseling, 94% reported understanding their risk for cancer and 87% were aware of available risk-reduction strategies. 87% of high-risk respondents intended to engage in risk-management interventions. 93% reported high satisfaction. 66% indicated they would not have pursued genetic counseling if it had not been available by phone. Results suggest telephone counseling is a viable option for increasing access to genetic experts. In this sample, telephone counseling increases knowledge of cancer risk, motivates intention to change health-related behaviors, and elicits a high satisfaction level. Consequently, Aetna now offers telephone cancer genetic counseling nationwide as a covered benefit.
PMCID: PMC3303219  PMID: 20799063
BRCA 1/2; Cancer genetic counseling; Cancer risk assessment; Genetic testing; Hereditary cancer; Telephone genetic counseling
20.  Too Many Referrals of Low-risk Women for BRCA1/2 Genetic Services by Family Physicians 
Increasing availability and public awareness of BRCA1/2 genetic testing will increase women’s self-referrals to genetic services. The objective of this study was to examine whether patient characteristics influence family physicians’ (FPs’) referral decisions when a patient requests BRCA1/2 genetic testing. FPs (n = 284) completed a web-based survey in 2006 to assess their attitudes and practices related to using genetics in their clinical practice. Using a 2×2×2 factorial design we tested the effects of a hypothetical patient’s race, level of worry and insurance status on FPs’ decisions to refer her for BRCA1/2 testing. The patient was not appropriate for referral based on USPSTF guidelines. No patient characteristics were associated with FPs’ referral decisions. Although referral was not indicated, only 8% did not refer to genetic services, 92% referred for genetic services, and 50% referred to genetic counseling. FPs regarded it unlikely that the patient carried a mutation. However, 65% of FPs believed if they refused to refer for genetic services it would harm their relationship with the patient. Despite scarce and costly genetic services FPs were likely to inappropriately refer a low-risk patient who requested BRCA1/2 testing. The implications of this inappropriate referral on women’s screening behavior, genetic services, and health care costs are unknown. Clinicians and patients could benefit from education about appropriate use of genetic services so that both are more comfortable with a decision against referral.
PMCID: PMC2772063  PMID: 18990739
BRCA1/2 genetic services; physician referral; family physicians; evidence-based medicine; practice guidelines
21.  Variant of TREM2 Associated with the Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease 
The New England journal of medicine  2012;368(2):107-116.
Sequence variants, including the ε4 allele of apolipoprotein E, have been associated with the risk of the common late-onset form of Alzheimer’s disease. Few rare variants affecting the risk of late-onset Alzheimer’s disease have been found.
We obtained the genome sequences of 2261 Icelanders and identified sequence variants that were likely to affect protein function. We imputed these variants into the genomes of patients with Alzheimer’s disease and control participants and then tested for an association with Alzheimer’s disease. We performed replication tests using case–control series from the United States, Norway, the Netherlands, and Germany. We also tested for a genetic association with cognitive function in a population of unaffected elderly persons.
A rare missense mutation (rs75932628-T) in the gene encoding the triggering receptor expressed on myeloid cells 2 (TREM2), which was predicted to result in an R47H substitution, was found to confer a significant risk of Alzheimer’s disease in Iceland (odds ratio, 2.92; 95% confidence interval [CI], 2.09 to 4.09; P = 3.42×10−10). The mutation had a frequency of 0.46% in controls 85 years of age or older. We observed the association in additional sample sets (odds ratio, 2.90; 95% CI, 2.16 to 3.91; P = 2.1×10−12 in combined discovery and replication samples). We also found that carriers of rs75932628-T between the ages of 80 and 100 years without Alzheimer’s disease had poorer cognitive function than noncarriers (P = 0.003).
Our findings strongly implicate variant TREM2 in the pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s disease. Given the reported antiinflammatory role of TREM2 in the brain, the R47H substitution may lead to an increased predisposition to Alzheimer’s disease through impaired containment of inflammatory processes. (Funded by the National Institute on Aging and others.)
PMCID: PMC3677583  PMID: 23150908
22.  Family History of Alzheimer’s Disease and Hippocampal Structure in Healthy People 
The American journal of psychiatry  2010;167(11):1399-1406.
Structural brain changes appear years before the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, the leading cause of dementia late in life. Determining risk factors for such presymptomatic brain changes may assist in identifying candidates for future prevention treatment trials. In addition to the e4 allele of the apolipoprotein E gene (APOE-4), the major known genetic risk factor, a family history of Alzheimer’s disease also increases the risk to develop the disease, reflecting yet unidentified genetic and, perhaps, nongenetic risks. The authors investigated the influence of APOE-4 genotype and family history risks on cortical thickness in medial temporal lobe subregions among volunteers without cognitive impairment.
High-resolution magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and a cortical unfolding method were performed on 26 subjects (APOE-4 carriers: N =13; noncarriers: N =13) with at least one first-degree relative with Alzheimer’s disease and 25 subjects (APOE-4 carriers: N =12; noncarriers: N =13) without this risk factor. All subjects (mean age: 62.3 years [SD=10.7]; range=38–86 years) were cognitively healthy.
Family history of Alzheimer’s disease and APOE-4 status were associated with a thinner cortex in the entorhinal region, subiculum, and adjacent medial temporal lobe subfields. Although these associations were additive, family history of Alzheimer’s disease explained a greater proportion of the unique variance in cortical thickness than APOE-4 carrier status.
APOE-4 carrier status and family history of Alzheimer’s disease are independently associated with and contribute additively to hippocampal cortical thinning.
PMCID: PMC3086166  PMID: 20686185
23.  Age-Specific Incidence Rates for Dementia and Alzheimer Disease in NIA-LOAD/NCRAD and EFIGA Families 
JAMA neurology  2014;71(3):315-323.
Late-onset Alzheimer disease (LOAD), defined as onset of symptoms after age 65 years, is the most common form of dementia. Few reports investigate incidence rates in large family-based studies in which the participants were selected for family history of LOAD.
To determine the incidence rates of dementia and LOAD in unaffected members in the National Institute on Aging Genetics Initiative for Late-Onset Alzheimer Disease/National Cell Repository for Alzheimer Disease (NIA-LOAD/NCRAD) and Estudio Familiar de Influencia Genetica en Alzheimer (EFIGA) family studies.
Families with 2 or more affected siblings who had a clinical or pathological diagnosis of LOAD were recruited as a part of the NIA-LOAD/NCRAD Family Study. A cohort of Caribbean Hispanics with familial LOAD was recruited in a different study at the Taub Institute for Research on Alzheimer’s Disease and the Aging Brain in New York and from clinics in the Dominican Republic as part of the EFIGA study.
Age-specific incidence rates of LOAD were estimated in the unaffected family members in the NIA-LOAD/NCRAD and EFIGA data sets. We restricted analyses to families with follow-up and complete phenotype information, including 396 NIA-LOAD/NCRAD and 242 EFIGA families. Among the 943 at-risk family members in the NIA-LOAD/NCRAD families, 126 (13.4%) developed dementia, of whom 109 (86.5%) met criteria for LOAD. Among 683 at-risk family members in the EFIGA families, 174 (25.5%) developed dementia during the study period, of whom 145 (83.3%) had LOAD.
The annual incidence rates of dementia and LOAD in the NIA-LOAD/NCRAD families per person-year were 0.03 and 0.03, respectively, in participants aged 65 to 74 years; 0.07 and 0.06, respectively, in those aged 75 to 84 years; and 0.08 and 0.07, respectively, in those 85 years or older. Incidence rates in the EFIGA families were slightly higher, at 0.03 and 0.02, 0.06 and 0.05, 0.10 and 0.08, and 0.10 and 0.07, respectively, in the same age groups. Contrasting these results with the population-based estimates, the incidence was increased by 3-fold for NIA-LOAD/NCRAD families (standardized incidence ratio, 3.44) and 2-fold among the EFIGA compared with the NIA-LOAD/NCRAD families (1.71).
The incidence rates for familial dementia and LOAD in the NIA-LOAD/NCRAD and EFIGA families are significantly higher than population-based estimates. The incidence rates in all groups increase with age. The higher incidence of LOAD can be explained by segregation of Alzheimer disease–related genes in these families or shared environmental risks.
PMCID: PMC4000602  PMID: 24425039
24.  Primary Prevention of Gestational Diabetes Mellitus and Large-for-Gestational-Age Newborns by Lifestyle Counseling: A Cluster-Randomized Controlled Trial 
PLoS Medicine  2011;8(5):e1001036.
In a cluster-randomized trial, Riitta Luoto and colleagues find that counseling on diet and activity can reduce the birthweight of babies born to women at risk of developing gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM), but fail to find an effect on GDM.
Our objective was to examine whether gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) or newborns' high birthweight can be prevented by lifestyle counseling in pregnant women at high risk of GDM.
Method and Findings
We conducted a cluster-randomized trial, the NELLI study, in 14 municipalities in Finland, where 2,271 women were screened by oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT) at 8–12 wk gestation. Euglycemic (n = 399) women with at least one GDM risk factor (body mass index [BMI] ≥25 kg/m2, glucose intolerance or newborn's macrosomia (≥4,500 g) in any earlier pregnancy, family history of diabetes, age ≥40 y) were included. The intervention included individual intensified counseling on physical activity and diet and weight gain at five antenatal visits. Primary outcomes were incidence of GDM as assessed by OGTT (maternal outcome) and newborns' birthweight adjusted for gestational age (neonatal outcome). Secondary outcomes were maternal weight gain and the need for insulin treatment during pregnancy. Adherence to the intervention was evaluated on the basis of changes in physical activity (weekly metabolic equivalent task (MET) minutes) and diet (intake of total fat, saturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids, saccharose, and fiber). Multilevel analyses took into account cluster, maternity clinic, and nurse level influences in addition to age, education, parity, and prepregnancy BMI. 15.8% (34/216) of women in the intervention group and 12.4% (22/179) in the usual care group developed GDM (absolute effect size 1.36, 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.71–2.62, p = 0.36). Neonatal birthweight was lower in the intervention than in the usual care group (absolute effect size −133 g, 95% CI −231 to −35, p = 0.008) as was proportion of large-for-gestational-age (LGA) newborns (26/216, 12.1% versus 34/179, 19.7%, p = 0.042). Women in the intervention group increased their intake of dietary fiber (adjusted coefficient 1.83, 95% CI 0.30–3.25, p = 0.023) and polyunsaturated fatty acids (adjusted coefficient 0.37, 95% CI 0.16–0.57, p<0.001), decreased their intake of saturated fatty acids (adjusted coefficient −0.63, 95% CI −1.12 to −0.15, p = 0.01) and intake of saccharose (adjusted coefficient −0.83, 95% CI −1.55 to −0.11, p  =  0.023), and had a tendency to a smaller decrease in MET minutes/week for at least moderate intensity activity (adjusted coefficient 91, 95% CI −37 to 219, p = 0.17) than women in the usual care group. In subgroup analysis, adherent women in the intervention group (n = 55/229) had decreased risk of GDM (27.3% versus 33.0%, p = 0.43) and LGA newborns (7.3% versus 19.5%, p = 0.03) compared to women in the usual care group.
The intervention was effective in controlling birthweight of the newborns, but failed to have an effect on maternal GDM.
Trial registration
Current Controlled Trials ISRCTN33885819
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) is diabetes that is first diagnosed during pregnancy. Like other types of diabetes, it is characterized by high levels of sugar (glucose) in the blood. Blood-sugar levels are normally controlled by insulin, a hormone that the pancreas releases when blood-sugar levels rise after meals. Hormonal changes during pregnancy and the baby's growth demands increase a pregnant woman's insulin needs and, if her pancreas cannot make enough insulin, GDM develops. Risk factors for GDM, which occurs in 2%–14% of pregnant women, include a high body-mass index (a measure of body fat), excessive weight gain or low physical activity during pregnancy, high dietary intake of polyunsaturated fats, glucose intolerance (an indicator of diabetes) or the birth of a large baby in a previous pregnancy, and a family history of diabetes. GDM is associated with an increased rate of cesarean sections, induced deliveries, birth complications, and large-for-gestational-age (LGA) babies (gestation is the time during which the baby develops within the mother). GDM, which can often be controlled by diet and exercise, usually disappears after pregnancy but increases a woman's subsequent risk of developing diabetes.
Why Was This Study Done?
Although lifestyle changes can be used to control GDM, it is not known whether similar changes can prevent GDM developing (“primary prevention”). In this cluster-randomized controlled trial, the researchers investigate whether individual intensified counseling on physical activity, diet, and weight gain integrated into routine maternity care visits can prevent the development of GDM and the occurrence of LGA babies among newborns. In a cluster-randomized controlled trial, groups of patients rather than individual patients are randomly assigned to receive alternative interventions, and the outcomes in different “clusters” are compared. In this trial, each cluster is a municipality in the Pirkanmaa region of Finland.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers enrolled 399 women, each of whom had a normal blood glucose level at 8–12 weeks gestation but at least one risk factor for GDM. Women in the intervention municipalities received intensified counseling on physical activity at 8–12 weeks' gestation, dietary counseling at 16–18 weeks' gestation, and further physical activity and dietary counseling at each subsequent antenatal visits. Women in the control municipalities received some dietary but little physical activity counseling as part of their usual care. 23.3% and 20.2% of women in the intervention and usual care groups, respectively, developed GDM, a nonstatistically significant difference (that is, a difference that could have occurred by chance). However, the average birthweight and the proportion of LGA babies were both significantly lower in the intervention group than in the usual care group. Food frequency questionnaires completed by the women indicated that, on average, those in the intervention group increased their intake of dietary fiber and polyunsaturated fatty acids and decreased their intake of saturated fatty acids and sucrose as instructed during counseling, The amount of moderate physical activity also tended to decrease less as pregnancy proceeded in the intervention group than in usual care group. Finally, compared to the usual care group, significantly fewer of the 24% of women in the intervention group who actually met dietary and physical activity targets (“adherent” women) developed GDM.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings indicate that intensified counseling on diet and physical activity is effective in controlling the birthweight of babies born to women at risk of developing GDM and encourages at least some of them to alter their lifestyle. However, the findings fail to show that the intervention reduces the risk of GDM because of the limited power of the study. The power of a study—the probability that it will achieve a statistically significant result—depends on the study's size and on the likely effect size of the intervention. Before starting this study, the researchers calculated that they would need 420 participants to see a statistically significant difference between the groups if their intervention reduced GDM incidence by 40%. This estimated effect size was probably optimistic and therefore the study lacked power. Nevertheless, the analyses performed among adherent women suggest that lifestyle changes might be a way to prevent GDM and so larger studies should now be undertaken to test this potential primary prevention intervention.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
The US National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases provides information for patients on diabetes and on gestational diabetes (in English and Spanish)
The UK National Health Service Choices website also provides information for patients on diabetes and on gestational diabetes, including links to other useful resources
The MedlinePlus Encyclopedia has pages on diabetes and on gestational diabetes; MedlinePlus provides links to additional resources on diabetes and on gestational diabetes (in English and Spanish)
More information on this trial of primary prevention of GDM is available
PMCID: PMC3096610  PMID: 21610860
25.  Research involving subjects with Alzheimer’s disease in Italy: the possible role of family members 
BMC Medical Ethics  2015;16:12.
Alzheimer’s disease is a very common, progressive and still incurable disease. Future possibilities for its cure lie in the promotion of research that will increase our knowledge of the disorder’s causes and lead to the discovery of effective remedies. Such research will necessarily involve individuals suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. This raises the controversial issue of whether patients with Alzheimer’s disease are competent to give their consent for research participation.
We discuss the case of subjects with Alzheimer’s disease who may have impaired decision-making capacity and who could be involved in research protocols, taking into consideration aspects of the Italian normative framework, which requires a court-appointed legal representative for patients who are not able to give consent and does not recognise the legal value of advance directives. We show that this normative framework risks preventing individuals with Alzheimer’s disease from taking part in research and that a new policy that favours research while promoting respect for patients’ well-being and rights needs to be implemented.
We believe that concerns about the difficulty of obtaining fully valid consent of patients with Alzheimer’s disease should not prevent them from participating in clinical trials and benefiting from scientific progress. Therefore, we argue that the requirement for patients to have a legal representative may not be the best solution in all countries and clinical situations, and suggest promoting the role of patients’ family members in the decision-making process. In addition, we outline the possible role of advance directives and ethics committees.
PMCID: PMC4357192  PMID: 25888878
Alzheimer’s disease; Clinical trials; Competence; Legal representative; Family members

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