Alzheimer’s disease is devastating, untreatable and incurable and affects over 5 million Americans. As researchers focus on preventing the disease, new clues are emerging that can indicate its presence, helping doctors diagnose Alzheimer’s earlier and optimize treatment methods.
While diabetes is a well known risk factor of Alzheimer’s, a new study is showing that just having high blood pressure is associated with an increased risk of developing dementia. The risk is present even in those who do not have diabetes and in those who are in the higher end of the “normal” blood pressure range. The study done at the University of Washington observed more than 2,000 people over five years and found that those who had higher glucose levels were 18% more likely to develop dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. More studies need to be done to determine why this relationship exists.
Systolic blood pressure is the top number in a blood pressure reading and it measures the pressure in the arteries when the heart beats. A study that evaluated vascular risk factors as risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease found that participants who had a high systolic blood pressure (over 160 mm Hg) in midlife had a significantly higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease later in life. The study adjusted for age, BMI, education, vascular health, smoking status, and alcohol consumption. Researchers found that for every 10 point rise in blood pressure, the average level of an Alzheimer’s related protein called tau increases.
This surprising clue was uncovered by researchers at the Mayo Clinic. Scientists evaluated over 1,300 people and measured their stride length, cadence and velocity at two visits 15 months apart. They found that those who had lower cadence, velocity and length of stride has a larger decline in memory and cognition.
It may surprise some to learn that a history of clinical depression can be a risk factor for dementia, especially if the patient has suffered from both depression and diabetes. The study done by the University of Washington found that adults who have had both diseases are actually more than twice as likely to also develop dementia when compared to adults who only have diabetes. This may be because depression can lead to behaviors that contribute to dementia such as smoking, not exercising and over-eating.
The last surprising clue to dementia is in your heart. Studies have shown that the risk of developing Alzheimer’s or dementia (especially vascular dementia) increases when the heart is damaged. Vascular dementia is caused when blood flow to the brain is reduced and brain cells are deprived of vital nutrients and die. Some autopsy reports show that up to 80% of people who die with Alzheimer’s disease also have some type of cardiovascular disease.
These surprising new clues are key indicators of a pending Alzheimer’s or dementia diagnosis and can help doctors diagnose these neurological diseases earlier, leading to better and more fruitful treatment options. Did your loved one show any of these “clues“ before a diagnosis?