Can eating and sleeping habits help us better understand Alzheimer’s?

Researchers at the Center for Alzheimer’s Disease Research are examining how risk factors and neuropsychiatric patterns may hold the key for early detection, and early intervention, in this fast-growing disease.

Nearly seven million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease today. By 2060, this number is projected to double.

That is, unless new medical breakthroughs are developed—which is exactly what scientists at Brown’s Center for Alzheimer’s Disease Research are trying to achieve.

The center—established in April 2021 as a joint initiative between Brown’s Robert J. and Nancy D. Carney Institute for Brain Science and the University’s Division of Biology and Medicine—aims to build a world-class research program focused on early detection and treatment of Alzheimer's disease and related dementias. By catalyzing collaborations across basic and clinical research groups at Brown and its affiliated hospitals, researchers at the center hope to uncover when, where, and how Alzheimer’s disease first arises.

But, that aspiration is easier said than done. Of the top 10 causes of death in the United States, Alzheimer’s disease is the only one we cannot cure, prevent, or slow down.

“It’s unlike most diseases,” says Diane Lipscombe, Reliance Dhirubhai Ambani Director of the Robert J. and Nancy D. Carney Institute for Brain Science. “With cancer, we’re able to get a piece of the cancerous tissue and analyze it, understand it, and identify the best way to treat it. That is typically not possible with the brain. Progress on treatment of neurogenic diseases, like Alzheimer’s, is going to require an equivalent and noninvasive ability to do that with the brain.”

Risk Factors


How the Center for Alzheimer's Disease Research is deepening our understanding of the disease in hopes of earlier detection and treatments.

One avenue that holds promise is identifying signs and risk factors that would allow for early detection. Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior Ted Huey and his team have been investigating how to use innovative cognitive and emotional neuropsychiatric paradigms to better understand the progression of Alzheimer’s.

“When you say ‘neuropsychiatric,’ people often think of depression and anxiety. But it’s more than just that: it also includes things like appetite changes, sleep changes, changes in motivation. People may not associate as neuropsychiatric, but they’re all symptoms of disorders like Alzheimer’s that are not cognitive, but can appear early and can be helpful in diagnosis,” he says.

These early detection methods will not only provide a deeper understanding of the disease, but will help in developing better treatments and getting them to patients faster.

“ Academic research is the path to developing new cures and treatments for Alzheimer's disease. As researchers, we understand the critical need to move discoveries from the bench into the clinic. This is a major focus of our center for Alzheimer's disease research. ”

Diane Lipscombe Reliance Dhirubhai Ambani Director of the Robert J. and Nancy D. Carney Institute for Brain Science

Alzheimer’s disease statistics sourced from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.