Dr. Mary Tierney
Senior Scientist and Director of
Sunnybrook and Women's College Health Sciences Centre
Alzheimer's disease (AD) is the most common cause of dementia, accounting for more than 64% of dementia cases in Canada. It is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder that currently afflicts more than 161,000 Canadians and is expected to affect approximately 800,000 by the year 2030.
A recent accumulation of laboratory, epidemiological and small clinical-trial studies suggest that estradiol, the principal gonadal hormone in females, may delay or prevent the onset of AD, and may also improve cognition in women with the disease. These observations raise the possibility that women taking postmenopausal hormone replacement thera-py (HRT) may be at significantly lower risk for AD. Thus, there is a compelling and urgent need for randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trials to determine whether estrogen replacement can prevent or delay the course of AD. This urgency is made greater by recent studies that have identified cognitive tests and genetic risk factors that enable earlier diagnosis of AD and enable the identification of those most at risk for the disease. For example, our previous research has shown that two neuropsychological tests and two demographic covariates (referred to below as the Alzheimer predictive index) predicted, over a two-year period, with 80% accuracy, the onset of AD in memory-impaired individuals without dementia.