So far, studies haven't been able to prove if any of these strategies work to prevent cognitive decline, the panel said. The news is discouraging, for certain. The unfortunate reality is so little is known about the illness and of the aging process in general, experts said.
Researchers have identified certain risk factors such as age and the association of a genetic variant of a protein that plays a role in cholesterol - apolipoprotein E - that have shown links to developing Alzheimer's. And experts hope to soon understand what role genetics play in the disease. But much more research is needed.
In addition, the panel found that chronic diseases such as diabetes and depression, and risk factors such as smoking are associated with increased risk of both Alzheimer's and cognitive decline. But it's unclear from studies if these factors actually cause Alzheimer's or are simply related.
What's clear, however, is that a review of the interventions used to prevent the disease shows little evidence that they're effective.
"Alzheimer's disease is a feared and heart-breaking disease," said Dr. Martha L. Daviglus, conference panel chairwoman and professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University. "We wish we could tell people that taking a pill or doing a puzzle every day would prevent this terrible disease, but current evidence doesn't support this."