A new Johns Hopkins study published in the Nov. 6, 2007, issue of Neurology discusses new results that show that Alzheimer’s disease may progress more rapidly in people with high blood pressure or a form of irregular heartbeat, atrial fibrillation.
Interestingly, these findings suggest that treating these conditions may also slow memory loss in people with Alzheimer's.
While current medications for Alzheimer’s disease are effective for some patients in slowing the rate of AD progression, many patients do not benefit from the treatments or cannot tolerate them, says lead researcher Michelle M. Mielke, Ph.D., of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
“The possibility that specific vascular conditions may affect how fast a person with AD declines provides new opportunities for slowing the rate of AD progression,"said Dr. Mielke, who recommends that current treatments for atrial fibrillation and high blood pressure be used on Alzheimer's patients with these conditions. These drugs are relatively inexpensive and safe and these researchers believe they may reduce memory decline in AD patients with these conditions.
The study examined 135 men and women over 65 who were newly diagnosed with AD. All had undergone annual memory tests for an average of three years. The study results showed that those with high blood pressure (systolic pressure over 160) at the time of AD diagnosis suffered a rate of memory loss roughly 100 percent faster than those with normal blood pressure.
In addition, 10 patients with atrial fibrillation at the time of the diagnosis showed a rate of memory decline that was 75 percent faster than those with normal heartbeats. The study participants were part of the Cache County Study on Memory Health and Aging, which has been following a group of 5,092 people 65 or older living in Cache County, Utah, since 1995.
“What makes this group and study unique is that we have been following these participants in the community for over a decade, even before they were first diagnosed with AD, so we know a good deal about their medical history,” says Mielke. “Studies that enroll AD patients only from clinics may miss key factors, such as date of onset and history of cardiovascular disease and treatment.”
These doctors are currently working on similar studies using larger sample sizes to better understand the potential role that vascular factors play before AD diagnosis and their role over the course of the disease’s progression.