Taking a combination of different drugs can cause complications and adverse side effects for many people living with dementia. But new research suggests that a specific combination of cardiovascular drugs — including statins and antihypertensives — may actually lower the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by 21 percent.
The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Southern California (USC) and the University of Washington, Seattle, examined how this particular combination can help people prevent or at least slow down the neurodegenerative disease.
While the main drivers of Alzheimer’s disease are the clustered tau and amyloid proteins found in the brain, researchers have discovered that there are a variety of underlying factors that contribute to the risk of developing the disease. Those include inflammation, genetics and cardiovascular factors — like high blood pressure, obesity and overall heart health.
The link between Alzheimer’s and cardiovascular health is well-established. Doctors know that poor heart health is linked to vascular dementia, a type of the disease that’s caused by stiffened blood vessels and reduced oxygen flow to the brain. And research shows that high blood pressure increases the risk of dementia.
The latest study reviewed medical and pharmacy claims among 700,00 Medicare beneficiaries from 2007 to 2014. The population studied was aged 67 or older.
To calculate the impact on Alzheimer’s risk, the researchers measured taking both an antihypertensive — a type of drug used to treat high blood pressure — and a statin, a drug that helps lower cholesterol in the blood as prevention for heart attack and stroke.
Cholesterol-lowering drugs pravastatin and rosuvastatin, in combination with hypertension-fighting drugs known as ACE inhibitors and angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs), showed the most efficacy in reducing the risk of dementia later on.
“Our research found dementia risk may be reduced with a specific combination of drug treatments for vascular health,” Julie Zissimopoulous, director of the Aging and Cognition program at USC, said in a news release.
“We know that managing hyperlipidemia and hypertension is important, and this study tells us there might be certain combinations of drugs that have additional benefits for Alzheimer’s and other dementias beyond the management of those targeted conditions,” Douglas Barthold, another author of the study, said in the news release.
When discussing vascular dementia and general Alzheimer’s, many experts urge people to incorporate lifestyle changes like improved diet, physical activity and cognitive exercises to help lower their risk of developing the disease. Most doctors agree that the best ways to lower the risk for dementia is to maintain a heart-healthy lifestyle. One recent study found that a third of dementia cases could be prevented with lifestyle changes.
“We don’t currently have drugs that are proven to treat dementia, but even small delays in onset can dramatically reduce the burden on patients, caregivers and the health system as a whole,” Zissimopoulos said.