Alzheimer's disease—a progressive, irreversible brain disorder—is a formidable opponent with no known cause or cure. More than 4.5 million Americans are thought to have this disease that attacks and slowly steals the minds of its victims. Alzheimer's impacts every nation where life expectancy has increased; estimates indicate that there are now 18 million people worldwide with the disease.
According to a new study from France, treating vascular conditions substantially slowed down the progression of the cognitive decline in dementia patients. Treating high blood pressure in people with mild cognitive problems could prevent dementia altogether or at least buy extra years of life without disabling symptoms. Being more aggressive with the treatment of vascular risk factors associated with diabetes and obesity helped as well.
The study involved 891 dementia patients treated at a memory disorders clinic in France who, on average, had 2.6 of the vascular risk factors. Over the course of more than 3 years, those who had all their risk factors treated did much better on cognitive tests than those who did not get treatment. The effect amounted to about a 1-year delay in cognitive decline after 2 years. In other words, those who had all of their vascular risk factors treated took 3 years to decline as much as those who went untreated for 2 years.
Weighing in on the study results, McGowan Institute faculty member Steven DeKosky, MD, said, “A 1-year slow down would be a big deal. It’s similar to what the best approved Alzheimer’s drugs now provide.”
Diana Kerwin, an assistant professor of medicine at the Medical College of Wisconsin and clinical director of geriatric medicine at Froedtert Hospital believes the study reinforces the idea of cognitive reserve—even though people may have the beginnings of Alzheimer’s disease in their brain, developing dementia can be avoided by strengthening their brain health in other ways.
Illustration: Histopathogic image of senile plaques seen in the cerebral cortex in a patient with Alzheimer disease of presenile onset. Silver impregnation. –Wikipedia.
Deseret News (06/12/07)
University of Pittsburgh Alzheimer Disease Research Center