High Blood Pressure, Chest Pains Speed Up Progression Of Alzheimer's Disease

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People with Alzheimer's disease who have high blood pressure, chest pains or an irregular heartbeat may lose their memories faster than others with Alzheimer's disease.

The study involved 135 elderly people with newly diagnosed Alzheimer's disease who had annual cognitive tests for an average of three years. At the beginning of the study, 62 percent of the participants reported one or more of the following vascular factors: irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, chest pains, coronary artery bypass surgery, heart attack, diabetes, use of medications to treat high blood pressure, and stroke.

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The study found those people who reported high blood pressure at the time of the Alzheimer's diagnosis saw their rate of cognitive decline accelerate twice as fast as those Alzheimer's patients who did not have high blood pressure. Irregular heartbeats and chest pains due to a lack of blood supply in the heart were also associated with a more rapid decline on cognitive tests.

"The good news is that vascular factors can be modified, so these results may suggest strategies for slowing the progression of Alzheimer's," said study author Michelle Mielke, PhD, with The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, MD. "Many studies suggest that vascular factors are associated with an increased risk of developing Alzheimer's disease; these findings suggest that vascular factors also affect rate of cognitive and functional decline after a diagnosis and further research is clearly warranted."

The study also found Alzheimer's patients who have a history of heart bypass surgery, diabetes, or taking medications to treat high blood pressure had a slower rate of cognitive decline.

"Our findings further suggest that medications used to treat high blood pressure may be important in slowing the progression of Alzheimer's once a person is diagnosed," said Mielke. "However, the findings that show heart bypass surgery and diabetes are associated with a slower rate of cognitive decline are counterintuitive and more research is clearly needed before recommendations can be made."

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