Treating high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes could slow the decline from memory problems into full-blown Alzheimer's disease, a new study suggests.
Memory problems are common among older people. They’re often nothing serious, but around 1 in 10 people with an impaired memory go on to develop Alzheimer's during the next year.
There are drugs that slow the progression of Alzheimer’s, but the benefits are limited. New options for preventing or slowing the disease would have the potential to help millions of people.
A new study offers hope for just that. By following 837 people, who were all 55 or over, researchers have discovered a link between heart and circulation problems and the development of Alzheimer’s.
During the five-year study, people with memory problems were more likely to develop full-blown Alzheimer's if they also had high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, or narrowed arteries. Around 52 in 100 people with one of these problems developed Alzheimer's, compared with 36 in 100 people who were in good cardiovascular health.
Although heart or circulation problems increased the risk of Alzheimer’s, people who had treatment saw their risk fall. Someone who had all their heart or circulation problems treated had about two-thirds the risk of developing Alzheimer's compared with someone who had no treatment at all.
The type of study means the researchers are only able to link cardiovascular factors with Alzheimer’s—they can’t definitively prove that treating narrowed arteries, high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes would ward off Alzheimer’s. But given how common these problems are—and the fact that they’re often undertreated—the possibility is exciting.
Bottom line: Cardiovascular risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes are linked to a higher risk of memory problems escalating into full-blown Alzheimer’s disease.
Treating high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes can help lower the risk of a heart attack or a stroke. The new study suggests that treatment might also have a bonus effect—a lower risk of Alzheimer’s. If you’re older, it’s a good idea to get your heart health checked and have treatment if you need it.
—Philip Wilson, BMJ Group
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