Thursday, November 29, 2007

What Does Blood Pressure Have to Do With Alzheimer’s?

This is one study I would really like to get my mother into. She takes three medications now for high blood pressure and it is still out of control. In addition, I discovered after the fact that she was not taking her blood pressure medication as prescribed for years before she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's dementia.

The brain needs lots of blood to work well. That’s made doctors wonder whether high blood pressure, which can reduce blood flow to the brain, is connected to cognitive problems — especially in the elderly, in whom both high blood pressure and mental decline are common. (See, for example, this recent study.)

A small study being presented today at the RSNA conference is the latest finding to suggest there may be a connection. Using a type of MRI that measures blood flow, researchers examined how high blood pressure affected blood flow in the brains of people with and without Alzheimer’s disease (abstract here).

They found that those with high blood pressure had lower levels of blood flow overall, and those with high blood pressure and Alzheimer’s had lower blood flow than those with high blood pressure but not Alzheimer’s.

In an interview with the Health Blog, the lead author, Cyrus Raji, noted that the findings, based on only 88 people, need to be validated by a larger trial. But he said the research presents an interesting possibility that could give doctors and patients yet another reason to try to control high blood pressure.

“We are not saying that hypertension causes Alzheimer’s,” said Raji, a grad student at the University of Pittsburgh. “It’s an extra hit to the brain, and an extra hit in areas that can eventually be affected by Alzheimer’s disease … If that turns out to be the case, which we won’t know until we do a lot more work, that would be a huge impetus for tighter control for hypertension, especially in the elderly.”

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alzheimer's, blood flow, brain, cognitive problems, high blood pressure, hypertension