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A new study has found that Alzheimer’s disease may progress faster in patients with high blood pressure or a type of irregular heartbeat called atrial fibrillation.
The study’s author Dr. Michelle Mielke, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine sums up the findings this way:
“The main point of these findings is that vascular factors do affect the rate of progression in Alzheimer’s, so treatment of these factors could reduce the rate of decline.”
“There are some dementia medications out there that are effective for some people [with Alzheimer’s] but, for some people, they aren’t effective or can’t be tolerated. Perhaps this is another way of reducing [their] decline. Even if you can give people a few more months with a better quality of life and keep them more cognizant than in the past, I think that then it is worth it.”
The study, which is is published in the Nov. 6 issue of Neurology, involved Mielke and her colleagues studying a group of 135 women and men 65 and older from Cache County, Utah. These participants had developed dementia that was characterized as “possible or probable Alzheimer’s Disease” without concurrent vascular dementia.
Those patients at the time of diagnosis who had systolic blood pressure greater than 160 or atrial fibrillation deteriorated more rapidly, based on standard tests of functioning and mental status, than those who didn’t have the conditions, the study found.
Age also played a role in the progression of Alzheimer’s for patients who had certain vascular conditions, the study said. The disease progressed more rapidly in older participants with high blood pressure, angina or a history of a heart attack.
But the researchers also found some unexpected results — a history of diabetes or heart bypass at the time of diagnosis was associated with slower progression of Alzheimer’s. They aren’t sure exactly what the association between diabetes and slower Alzheimer’s progression means. They speculate that patients who’d undergone heart bypass surgery may have benefited from their heart’s increased ability to pump oxygen-rich blood to the brain. Other factors that may have helped bypass patients include better overall health, better diets, and closer monitoring by physicians.
The study did not specifically look at the impact of treating vascular conditions such as high blood pressure on Alzheimer’s patients. But the results did show that patients who had been treated with high blood pressure drugs prior to their Alzheimer’s diagnosis did decline more slowly.
Earlier this year, French researchers reported that Alzheimer’s patients with vascular disease who received standard medications — such as statins, anti-clotting agents, insulin and anti-hypertensive drugs — did better cognitively over a 36-month period than those who didn’t receive such treatment.
Dr. Lon Schneider, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral science at the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine, said the work of Mielke and her colleagues is “confirming and affirming that vascular factors have a significant role to play in Alzheimer’s disease in moderating the onset and the course of the illness. It suggests a large portion of treatment and preventive treatment should be focused on cardiovascular disease.”
Dr. William Thies, vice president for medical and scientific relations for the Alzheimer’s Association, said both the French study and the work of Mielke’s team “certainly do support the idea that aggressive therapy for vascular disease throughout your whole life span is probably a good idea, and that doesn’t change once you have Alzheimer’s disease either.”
The statistics are alarming: An estimated 4.5 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease, but that number is expected to increase dramatically as the population grows older. Experts believe that about half of people 85 and older may have the disease.
These studies – as well as countless others prove what we should have already realized: To obtain the best overall health (as in physical, mental, and emotional), we should focus on being healthy in every area of our life, in every inch of our bodies! That means eating the things we know we should be eating, exercising as often as we know we should be exercising, and working our minds as often as…well, as often as possible.
1. Make a point to start fresh today – begin experimenting with healthy fruits and vegetables. Replace unhealthy snacks that do you absolutely no good at all with those that do you a world of good. Yesterday, at Subway, I had a bag of apple slices with my sandwich instead of chips and they were actually much better. Crunchy, delicious, and oh so healthy!
2. Start moving more and sitting less. Park further from the store’s doors than usual to “sneak” in a little extra exercise. Once inside the store, take the lonnnnngggg route to what you’re after. If you have the time, lap the store three times before actaully grabbing what you came for. Once it’s in your cart, go for three more. If we play our carts right, we can get our daily exercise while we do our daily shopping.
3. Read more! Grab the newspaper and tackle a story you never would have even glanced twice at before. Learn new things, new names, and new places. In other words, stretch your mind by stretching your boundaries. Work a crossword puzzle every day. It doesn’t matter if you get all the way through, just atttempting it gives your mind an awesome workout. Another great mind stretcher is to memorize scripture or poetry. So grab the Bible or Emily Dickinson and memorize verses at a time. Test yourself at the end of the day to see how well you remembered the verses. Each day, try for longer passages. Remember, it doesn’t matter if you remember it all perfectly – you’re flexing your mental muscles and that’s all that counts.
Basically, start doing everything you know you should be doing already. This also includes a check up with the doctor if you haven’t had one in a while. I can hear you groaning – almost as loudly as I am – but check ups are more than just important to your health. They could very well save your life.
Mental Health, Physical Helath, and Emotional Health – they all hold hands. By making one strong, you strengthen the others. That’s the good news. But the bad news is – if one grows weak, it’ll affect the others. Make a point to start working on strengthening them all, daily.
Make each moment count double,