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Treating Vascular Risk Factors May Reduce Dementia Risk


Vascular dementia is the second most common type. It is caused by chronic, reduced blood flow to the brain. Vascular dementia is closely tied to diseases of the heart and blood vessels, so treating the ailments that are causing the symptoms, such as high blood pressure and diabetes, could potentially reduce the risk of developing full-fledged dementia.

Managing Blood Pressure, Blood Sugar and Cholesterol Levels Can Reduce Alzheimer's Risk

Researchers with the Third Military Medical University in Chongqing, China led by Yan-Jiang Wang MD PhD followed 837 people with mild cognitive impairment (MCI). Of the participants, 414 also had at least one vascular risk factor. The volunteers were given blood tests, had blood pressure and body mass index measured and were assessed for memory and thinking skills.

Those with vascular risk factors were placed into three groups: those who had not been treated, those who had some risk factors treated, and those with all risk factors treated with interventions such as hypertension medications, insulin, cholesterol-lowering drugs and diet control. Smoking and alcohol intake were also considered if the participant ceased these activities at the start of the study.

Read: Obesity may raise dementia risk by up to 80%

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After 5 years, 298 (71%) had progressed to Alzheimer’s disease. Those with vascular risk factors such as high blood pressure, diabetes, cerebrovascular disease (stroke) and high cholesterol were two times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s than those without risk factors. The participants receiving full treatment for their conditions were 39% less likely to develop Alzheimer’s than those not receiving any treatment at all.

“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 Dr. Wang.

Previous research has shown that individuals with poor cardiovascular and metabolic health are more likely to develop cognitive impairment as they grow older, but this is among the first of the studies to find that treating the conditions appropriately reduces the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

Read: Walking And Moderate Exercise Help Prevent Dementia

The research is published in the April 13, 2011, online issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

The Alzheimer’s Association urges patients with blood pressure problems, diabetes or prediabetes, high cholesterol, or are overweight or obese to manage their conditions appropriately early in life to prevent later cognitive decline. The National Stroke Association advises patients to:
• Work with your physician to manage blood pressure with diet, exercise and medication.
• Monitor blood sugar regularly if diabetic and follow your doctor’s recommendations to control hyperglycemia.
• Find out your cholesterol levels, including a breakdown of LDL, HDL, and triglyceride levels. Follow a low-fat, low cholesterol diet if high, and take medications as your doctor prescribes.
• Lose weight if you are overweight using a combination of a low-calorie diet and at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise.
• If you smoke, stop.
• If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation (no more than 1 drink per day for women, 2 for men)