The University of Texas at Dallas study looked at 147 people with normal brain function, ages 30 to 89. Patients were divided into groups that included those with high blood pressure (hypertension), those taking medication for high blood pressure, those who did not have high blood pressure, and those with a genetic risk for Alzheimer’s.
All participants underwent brain scans to search for brain plaque called amyloid protein, which is associated with the disease. According to a University of Texas at Dallas news release, scientists believe that amyloid is the first symptom of Alzheimer’s and shows up a decade or more before symptoms of memory impairment and other cognitive deficits show up.
Lead author, Karen Rodrigue, PhD, assistant professor at the UT Dallas Center for Vital Longevity, found that patients with high blood pressure who also carried the genetic factor for Alzheimer’s showed much higher amyloid levels than all other groups. Patients who were taking medications to control their hypertension – even those with a genetic risk – had levels of amyloid plaque equivalent to patients without high blood pressure or genetic risk.
Rodrigue acknowledges that more long-term studies are needed to determine if the use of medications to control hypertension decreases amyloid plaques. However, researchers noted that high blood pressure is highly responsive to exercise, changes in diet and medical treatment, and may provide answers to delaying or preventing Alzheimer’s.
“Keeping good vascular health may limit or delay the brain changes associated with Alzheimer’s disease and other aging-related neurological deterioration,” Rodrigue told HealthDay News.
Sam Gandy, MD, PhD, associate director of the Mount Sinai Alzheimer’s Research Center in New York City, agrees.
“This means that yet another intervention – here, blood pressure control, but think also of physical exercise – can have an important impact on dementia risk and rate of progression. We must not overlook these simple effective interventions while developing new therapies,” said Gandy.