15 January 2015
There is growing evidence that suggest heart and brain problems could be the most common cause of dementia in older people. In addition, when strokes and hallmark Alzheimer's plaques and tangles are combined, it significantly boosts a person's risk of experiencing dementia.
This is particularly relevant as a stroke, or cerebrovascular disease, occurs more commonly as people age and is made worse by smoking, hypertension or diabetes. However, it can be prevented with a variety of drug and lifestyle interventions, but this same method has not been established for dementia.
Published in Alzheimer's & Dementia: the Journal of the Alzheimer's Association, a group of leading scientists have noted recommendations to support future research on how Alzheimer's and vascular conditions progress together and influence each other.
The authors hope this research agenda, if executed, will uncover new clues for effectively treating or preventing dementia.
Heather Snyder, director of medical and scientific operations for the Alzheimer's Association, and first author of the new article, said: "We are encouraged by the potential for new treatment strategies for dementia to arise from studying the crossover of vascular factors with the progression of Alzheimer's."
Professor Snyder said that, in terms of next steps, research tools and collaborations need to be developed to further scientific investigation in "this promising area of study".
At the end of 2013, the Alzheimer's Association, with scientific input from the National Institutes of Health's National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) and National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI), canvassed the opinion of scientific experts on how gaps in research on vascular contributions in Alzheimer's and related forms of dementia can be addressed. The newly-published article summarises the meeting and discussions, including an outline of next steps.
Professor Snyder said whether improved control of vascular risk factors can be "translated to decreased dementia risk" is not known, but the findings of a number of studies suggest that it could be possible, which warrants further research attention.
"Blood vessels that deliver nutrients to the brain and carry away waste are vital for normal cognitive function," said co-author Roderick Corriveau, the NINDS programme director who oversees dementia research. "Understanding vascular contributions to cognitive impairment and dementia, including changes due to stroke, heart disease and diabetes, are critically important to guide the development of preventions and treatments for dementia."
Various areas were identified by the authors, such as further research on the relationship between diabetes and insulin resistance and risk of vascular disease, Alzheimer's and related dementia. They also wanted to see further studies involving genetic factors that could influence vascular processes and other changes in the brain, as well as the role of the immune system in relation to blood flow in the brain.
The authors also conclude that biological markers, which are used to detect and measure disease progression, of key vascular processes related to brain function impairment, memory and thinking abilities should be studied in order to progress research.
Posted by Phillip Briggs
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