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Dementia risk cut by beta-blockers

8th January 2013

Researchers in Hawaii say that taking beta-blockers, which are currently used to treat high blood pressure, could lower the risk of dementia.

bloodpressure

The drugs, which slow down the heart rate and enable the heart to pump more efficiently, appeared in a preliminary study to protect elderly men from brain changes linked to dementia.

The findings will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology's annual meeting in March, and are based on a trial in 774 men.

High blood pressure is a known risk factor for dementia.

However, it is still too early to say whether people should take the drugs to ward off dementia.

Study author Lon White, of the Pacific Health Research and Education Institute in Honolulu, said further and larger studies were still needed to see what benefits beta-blockers might bring to both genders and across different ethnic groups.

White called the results exciting, as beta-blockers are a commonly available and existing treatment.

High blood pressure, or hypertension, can damage the delicate blood supply to the brain, and is associated with other health problems like heart disease and stroke.

Brain cells can die without the oxygen and nutrients carried by the blood vessels to the brain.

After Alzheimer's, dementia linked to reduced blood flow to the brain, known as vascular dementia, is the most common cause of dementia.

The University of Hawaii study looked at the autopsies of 774 Japanese-American men for signs of brain shrinkage and tissue damage.

It found that any blood pressure medication is better than no treatment for the brain, but that beta-blockers alone was linked to the lowest incidence of brain abnormalities.

White said that it is increasingly important to identify factors that can delay or prevent dementia, with the incidence of Alzheimer's rising in an ageing global population.

A previous study of 800,000 men showed that the blood pressure medication known as an angiotensin receptor blocker cut dementia risk by as much as 50%.

 

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