Aspirin May Slow Mental Decline in Aging Women

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According to researchers at Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg in Sweden, physicians may be able to add “a decreased rate of mental decline” to the growing list of benefits provided from a daily dose of aspirin—particularly, in aging women who have a high risk of having a cerebral vascular accident or heart attack.

The findings were the result of a 5-year study that followed the changes in the mental capacity of 681 aging women ranging in age from 70 to 92 years old who were previously diagnosed with cardiovascular disease and at risk of suffering from heart attack or stroke. Because inflammation is an important factor behind cardiovascular disease, and aspirin or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) are used to treat the inflammation, researchers have recently asked whether inflammation may contribute to cognitive decline as well and therefore benefit from aspirin or other NSAIDs as well.

According to a recent study published in the British Medical Journal Open that addresses this question, researchers monitored the physical and mental health of the study participants at the end of the 5-year study making note of the rate of mental decline via results from administered language and memory tests. The language and memory tests consisted of the standardized Mini Mental State Examination (MMSE), word fluency, naming ability and memory word tests.

Of the 681 elderly women studied, 129 received daily a low dose of aspirin that was equivalent to approximately one-fourth of a typical tablet given for the prevention of heart disease. Before final selection of the 681 women studied, women who were diagnosed with dementia or on blood thinning medications were excluded from the study. At the end of the 5-year period, 489 of the subjects were available and agreeable to psychiatric follow-up examination and cognitive-memory testing.

What the researchers found was that aspirin may contribute to a decreased rate of mental decline in aging women. The conclusions reached by the authors of the study were:

• Low-dose ASA use in women at high cardiovascular risk was related to less cognitive decline during a 5-year follow-up.

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• Low-dose ASA treatment may have a neuroprotective effect in elderly at high cardiovascular risk.

According to a press release issued by the University of Gothenburg:

"At the end of the five year examination period, mental capacity had declined among all the women and the portion that suffered from dementia was equally large in the entire group. However, the decline in brain capacity was significantly less and occurred at a slower pace among the women who received acetylsalicylic acid," says Silke Kern, a researcher at Sahlgrenska Academy.

However, Ms. Kern notes that the study is preliminary, based on observation as opposed to more rigorous methods and therefore in need of additional research to confirm their findings.

"Our results indicate that acetylsalicylic acid may protect the brain, at least among women at high risk for a heart attack or stroke. However, we do not know the long term effects of routine treatment. We certainly do not want to encourage the elderly to self-medicate with aspirin to avoid dementia," states Ms. Kern.

While the list of the reported benefits of taking aspirin daily continues to grow, researchers are also reporting that there is a dark side to the little white pill and its acetaminophen cousin. For more information about how aspirin and other NSAIDs may be harming some users, follow this link to an article titled “Dr. Oz Warns Viewers About Two Common OTC Drugs That Cause Deafness.”

Image Source: Courtesy of MorgueFile

Reference: “Does low-dose acetylsalicylic acid prevent cognitive decline in women with high cardiovascular risk? A 5-year follow-up of a non-demented population-based cohort of Swedish elderly women” BMJ Open Volume 2, Issue 5 (2012); Silke Kern et al.

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