Increasingly, doctors recognize that diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol – the same factors that put you at risk for having a heart attack – also increase your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease in old age. Taking steps to treat and control those problems may help to ward off Alzheimer’s as well, new research shows.
For the study, researchers in China enrolled 837 people with mild cognitive impairment, or MCI, a serious form of memory loss that sometimes progresses to Alzheimer’s disease. Every year, some 10 percent to 15 percent of those with mild cognitive impairment go on to develop Alzheimer’s, a rate 10 times higher than that for the general population.
All the study participants were given extensive medical workups and memory assessments. About half had at least one of the problems – high cholesterol, high blood pressure, blood vessel disease or diabetes -- that put them at risk of heart disease or stroke. Some were following treatments to control these conditions, such as taking blood pressure medicines, cholesterol-lowering drugs or insulin for diabetes. Lifestyle measures, like eating a heart-healthy diet or stopping smoking or drinking, were also considered.
Overall, nearly 300 of the study participants had progressed from mild cognitive impairment to Alzheimer’s disease after the five-year study period. Those who had risk factors like high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes were two times more likely to have Alzheimer’s than those who didn’t have these problems. Overall, more than half of those with cardiovascular risk factors went on to develop Alzheimer’s. Among those without such risk factors, 36 percent developed Alzheimer’s.
But taking steps to treat or manage conditions like diabetes, high cholesterol or high blood pressure made a notable difference. People who were receiving full treatment for their medical problems, including medications and lifestyle measures, were 39 percent less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than those receiving no treatment. Those receiving some treatments were 26 percent less likely to develop the disease compared to people who did not receive any treatment.
The findings, published in the journal Neurology, from the American Academy of Neurology, underline the importance of a heart-healthy lifestyle and managing medical conditions to help lower Alzheimer’s risk. Other studies have shown that a Mediterranean-style diet, full of heart-healthy foods like fish, fresh fruit and olive oil, may help to ward off Alzheimer’s in old age. Keeping weight down, stopping smoking and staying active have likewise been shown to be good for the brain. And the earlier such measures are started, the better off you may be in the long run.
Source: J. Li, Y.J. Wang, M. Zhang, et al: “Vascular Risk Factors Promote Conversion From Mild Cognitive Impairment to Alzheimer’s Disease.” Neurology Vol. 76, pages 1485–1491.