Clinical trials are research studies conducted in people to determine whether treatments are safe and effective. Without clinical research and the help of human volunteers, there can be no better treatments, no prevention and no cure for Alzheimer’s disease.

When I was first diagnosed I felt like a victim. Participating in a clinical study made me feel like I was taking my life back and doing something to fight this disease.

Paul Hornback
Living with Alzheimer's disease
TrialMatch user

What's the difference between a clinical trial and a clinical study?

Clinical trials are sometimes referred to as clinical studies; the terms are often used interchangeably, but there are subtle differences between them. Clinical trials test new interventions or drugs to prevent, detect or treat disease. A clinical study is any type of clinical research involving people, regardless of whether it is testing a specific intervention. Clinical studies can also look at other aspects of care, such as improving quality of life.

The Alzheimer’s Association TrialMatch® database includes:

  • Treatment trials to test new treatments or combinations of treatments.
  • Diagnostic studies that find new tests or procedures for diagnosing a disease or condition.
  • Prevention trials that investigate ways to prevent the onset of diseases.
  • Quality of life studies that explore ways to improve quality of life for individuals who have a chronic illness, their caregivers and family members.
  • Online studies that are web-based and conducted entirely online.

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Treatment trials

Perhaps the best known clinical studies are those that test new treatments. Before a new drug or treatment can be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), it has to go through three phases of clinical trials. Most of the time, a clinical trial is designed to compare a new therapy with the best-known existing therapy for the disease being studied. When there is no proven treatment to use as a comparison, researchers are likely to compare the new drug with a placebo, which is a sugar pill or other inactive substance that has no treatment value but made to look like the new drug in development.

There are two types of Alzheimer's treatment trials:
  • Treatments aimed at reducing symptoms. During this type of trial, new drugs and variations of existing drugs that aim to reduce the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease are tested. Studies of existing drugs explore whether changing the dose, taking the medication on a different schedule (more or less often), or combining it with other medications might further reduce or delay symptoms.
  • Treatments aimed at slowing or stopping the disease. During this type of trial, new drugs designed to slow or stop Alzheimer's are tested. Some of the experimental drugs being tested in treatment trials represent entirely new ways of treating the disease. Download the treatment trials’ PowerPoint presentations below.

Diagnostic studies

Many clinical studies focus on finding better ways to accurately diagnose Alzheimer's disease, particularly in the early stages. These studies will hopefully lead to a trusted and easy-to-apply method that enables physicians to diagnose persons at risk for the disease — even before symptoms appear — and begin treatment (once such Alzheimer's treatments exist) in time to prevent the development of dementia.

Diagnostic studies are vital to the advancement of Alzheimer's research because they identify which individuals to treat and provide doctors with a way to track whether a treatment is working.

Other types of research

Researchers are working to uncover as many aspects of Alzheimer's disease and other dementias as possible. Examples include:

  • Prevention trials, where researchers look for ways to stop Alzheimer's disease from developing, oftentimes in groups of people identified as being at higher risk. These studies look at whether a certain medication, vitamin or lifestyle change (for example, healthy eating or exercise) might prevent Alzheimer's.
  • Quality of life studies, where researchers try to better understand and address the needs of people with Alzheimer's, their caregivers and family members. These studies’ goal is to figure out what types of support, education or training solve some of the challenges that those impacted by the disease face.
  • Online studies, which often explore the same kinds of questions as other studies but are able to be completed online, without requiring a visit to a particular site.

You can also help advance Alzheimer’s research by volunteering for a clinical trial. Get started by registering with TrialMatch, a free, easy-to-use clinical studies matching service that connects you with current studies.

What progress has been made?

While current drug therapies only treat the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease, researchers have great hope that in the near future there will be treatments that can stop or slow Alzheimer's.

Scientists have made enormous strides in understanding how Alzheimer’s disease
affects the brain. Many of these insights point toward new therapies and improved
ways to diagnose the disease and monitor its progression.

The more scientists know about Alzheimer’s-related changes in the brain, the greater the chance of finding a treatment that prevents or reverses these changes.

Learn about research milestones