While it’s vital to treat cardiovascular risk factors to help you avoid events like heart attack and stroke, these efforts may also be reducing your risk for Alzheimer’s disease. According to new research published in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, treating high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and other vascular risk factors may help lower the risk of Alzheimer’s disease in people who already show signs of declining thinking skills or memory problems.
The study followed 837 people with mild cognitive impairment, the stage of memory loss that often leads to Alzheimer’s disease, and almost half the participants had at least one vascular risk factor. They were given blood tests, completed a medical history questionnaire and had their blood pressure, body mass, memory and thinking skills all tested.
People who had vascular risk factors were divided into three groups: those with no risk factors treated, those with some risk factors treated and those with all risk factors treated. Treatment of risk factors included using high blood pressure medication, insulin, cholesterol-lowering drugs and diet control. Smoking and drinking were considered treated if the participant stopped the behaviors at the start of the study.
After five years, 298 people developed Alzheimer’s disease (the others still had mild cognitive impairment). People with risk factors such as high blood pressure, diabetes, cerebrovascular disease and high cholesterol were two times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than those without vascular risk factors. A total of 52 percent of those with risk factors developed Alzheimer’s disease, compared to 36 percent of those with no risk factors.
Among the participants with vascular risk factors, those who were getting full treatment were 39 percent less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than those receiving no treatment, while those receiving some treatments were 26 percent less likely to develop the disease compared to people who did not receive any treatment.
"Although this was not a controlled trial, patients who were treated for their high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease and diabetes had less progression of their memory or thinking impairment and were less likely to develop dementia," said study author Yan-Jiang Wang, MD, PhD, with the Third Military Medical University in Chongqing, China. The message is clear: Get and stay on needed treatment.