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An aspirin a day may keep dementia away

Robin Wulffson MD's picture
aspirin, cognitive decline, Alzheimer's disease, baby aspirin low dose aspirin

A number of studies have been published in recent years that report beneficial effects from aspirin therapy. A new study by Swedish researchers set out to determine whether a low dose aspirin regimen would reduce cognitive decline in older women. They published their findings online on October 3 in the journal BMJ Open.

Researchers affiliated with the Institute of Neuroscience and Physiology, Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg, Mölndal, Sweden designed a prospective, population-based cohort study. This type of study follows a group of similar individuals over a period of time to evaluate the effect of a certain therapy. The aim of this study was to examine whether low-dose acetylsalicylic acid (aspirin) influences the rate of cognitive change in elderly women.

The study group comprised 789 women aged 70–92 years who resided in private households and residential care in the city of Gothenburg, Sweden. The women were enrolled in the Prospective Population Study of Women and from the H70 Birth Cohort Study in Gothenburg, Sweden. Both samples were obtained from the Swedish Population Register, based on birth date; of the 789 women, a response rate of 71% was obtained. Individuals with dementia and those who were taking warfarin (Coumadin), clopidogrel (Plavix), or heparin at baseline (these three medications are anticoagulants (blood thinners). This left 681 women to be evaluated. Among all participants, 95.4% (601) had a high cardiovascular disease risk, defined as 10% or higher 10-year risk of any cardiovascular event according to the Framingham heart study; 129 of the women were taking low dose aspirin (75–160 mg daily) at baseline. After five years a follow-up was completed by 489 women.

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The primary outcome measures were cognitive decline and dementia incidence in relation to the use of low dose aspirin as well as cardiovascular risk factors. Cognition was measured using the Mini Mental State Examination (MMSE), word fluency, naming ability and memory word tests. Dementia was diagnosed according to the DSM-III-R criterion. The secondary outcome measures were the incidence of stroke and peptic ulcer in relation to low dose aspirin use.

The researchers found that women on a regular low dose aspirin regimen declined less on MMSE at follow-up than those not on aspirin. This difference was even more pronounced in those who were taking aspirin at both examinations, compared with never users (regular users: 66; never users: 338). All other cognitive tests revealed the same trends. There were no differences between the groups regarding short-term risk for dementia.

The researchers concluded that a low dose aspirin regime may have a neuroprotective effect in elderly women at high cardiovascular risk.

Take home message:
The dosage of aspirin in this study was that of baby aspirin. Although aspirin is readily available over the counter, remember that it is a drug and all drugs have a risk of side-effects. For individuals with a history (or family history) of heart disease or blood clots, the benefits of aspirin outweigh the risks for most. The cardiovascular benefits were found with a low dose aspirin in this study. Thus, cardiovascular risk was decreased with less risk of gastrointestinal bleeding that would occur with a higher aspirin dose. If you are on an aspirin regimen or are considering beginning one, it is prudent to discuss the pros and cons with a healthcare professional.

Reference: BMJ Open

See also:
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An aspirin a day keeps the cancer away
New Study: Is daily aspirin good for you?