By Chris Adams

Researchers at the National Institutes of Health are flush with new funding to tackle Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias, and they are also expanding how they look at the disease.

“There’s been a pretty one-dimensional view of dementia,” said Roderick Corriveau, a program director for neurodegeneration in the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, one of 27 institutes and centers at the NIH.

In a session with National Press Foundation fellows, Corriveau explained the old ways of thinking – mainly, that Alzheimer’s disease was the explanation for dementia. In fact, it’s much more complicated than that.

Corriveau explained that the traditional Alzheimer’s-only view of dementia actually only occurs in a small fraction of dementia cases; instead, most people have Alzheimer’s plus vascular dementia, or Alzheimer’s plus Lewy body dementia, or some other combination.

Corriveau and Susan Resnick of the National Institute on Aging also explained the National Alzheimer’s Project Act, a 2011 law that lead to a national plan with a goal to prevent and effectively treat Alzheimer’s and related dementias by 2025 – an admittedly ambitious goal.

In addition, the national plan seeks to enhance care quality and efficiency for those with Alzheimer’s; expand support for people with it, as well as their families; enhance public awareness and engagement of the disease; and improve the data necessary to track the plan’s progress.

In her lab, Resnick studies brain-behavior associations in health and disease and oversees the brain-imaging component of the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging. The nation’s longest-running study of human aging, the Baltimore project began in 1958. Resnick’s part of the study is to use the latest brain-imaging technology to essentially take pictures of people’s brains to try to understand how dementia comes on.

“This is a disease that starts well before we see any clinical symptoms,” she said.