Researchers Say a Vaccine for Dementia Could Be on the Horizon
Doctors are hopeful—but some are also skeptical.
Right now, over 55 million people are living with dementia across the globe, and 10 million new cases are diagnosed annually, according to Alzheimer's Disease International. If that's not alarming enough, this number is expected to double every 20 years, with a projected total of 139 million cases by 2050.
But if looking to the future of dementia feels daunting, there is also cause for hope: Several pharmaceutical research groups are currently testing vaccine candidates to help fight dementia. Read on to learn how vaccines could help lower your dementia risk—even if approved vaccines could be years away—and why the best time to start preventing dementia is now.
Routine vaccinations are associated with a lower dementia risk.
Studies have shown that receiving routine vaccinations as an adult has been linked with a statistically significant reduction in dementia risk. In fact, a 2022 study published in the journal Frontiers in Immunology concluded that staying on the recommended vaccine schedule during your adult years "may be an effective strategy for dementia prevention." However, they note that more research is needed "to elucidate the causal effects of this association and the underlying mechanisms."
The researchers analyzed 17 studies with a total of over 1.8 million participants and found that vaccinations were linked with a 35 percent reduction in dementia risk. Though "all types of vaccination were associated with a trend toward reduced dementia risk," they specifically noted that vaccines for rabies, tetanus & diphtheria & pertussis (Tdap), herpes zoster, influenza, hepatitis A, typhoid, and hepatitis B were most statistically significant. "Individuals with more full vaccination types and more annual influenza vaccinations were less likely to develop dementia. Gender and age had no effect on this association," the researchers wrote.
Researchers are now working toward targeted vaccines for dementia.
Now, experts are beginning to develop vaccine candidates that they say could target dementia directly. Many of these use antibodies to help fight deposits of misfolded proteins in the brain, known as amyloid and tau—both considered known features and possible causes of Alzheimer's dementia.
Several of these vaccine candidates have already entered clinical trials at various phases and stages of research. One such candidate developed by the pharmaceutical company Vaxxinity received fast track designation from the FDA in May of this year. This could help speed up both the development and review stages on the path to a patent.
Some are skeptical that the vaccines will work.
Though quite a few companies have entered the race to produce the first dementia vaccine on the market, some experts remain skeptical that these vaccines will ultimately prove effective. "I predict that none of these therapies will meaningfully alter the disease course," Karl Herrup, MD, a professor of neurobiology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, told Medical News Today.
"Sadly, since the industry poured most of its resources into these approaches, ignoring or sometimes repressing other avenues of investigation, it will be years before any meaningful therapies are available," he told the outlet in Nov. 2022.
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This is your best bet at staving off dementia in the meantime.
Though vaccines may be years away—if they work at all—experts say there are still ways to lower your dementia risk in the meantime. "For now, the best approaches are non-pharmacological," Herrup says.
In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that roughly 40 percent of all Alzheimer's dementia and related dementia (ADRD) cases could be prevented or delayed through lifestyle interventions. "Since ADRD takes years to develop, there are opportunities to develop and maintain healthy lifestyle habits that could reduce your risk of ADRD or slow its progression. It is never too late to break old habits and start new ones," they urge.
To get started, you'll want to strive for a healthy weight by exercising regularly and following a healthy diet such as the MIND-DASH diet. Limiting your alcohol intake and quitting smoking will further help you reduce your risk, as will treating any underlying conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, hearing loss, and depression, the CDC says. Speak with your doctor to learn more about how you can lower your dementia risk—starting today.