Dementia Linked to Diabetes and Hypertension
While most people fear Alzheimer’s disease as they age, surprising new findings indicate that up to one-third of dementia patients may have dementia due to small blood vessel damage to their brains which is most commonly associated with high blood pressure (hypertension) and diabetes. The new study results were presented by Dr. Thomas Montine at an Experimental Biology 2008 meeting in San Diego today. Dr. Montine, a University of Washington pathologist, reported that the data was collected during autopsies of 201 men and women with dementia.
The Montine team theorizes that the blood vessel damage could lead to tiny, undetected strokes and accompanying gradual cognitive decline and cognitive impairment, with the cumulative result being dementia. While Alzheimer’s disease and Lewy Body Dementia, neither of which is curable, were the cause of dementia in 55 percent of patients, the finding that 33 percent of dementia cases were linked to small blood vessel damage was unexpected. Montine emphasized the need to control both high blood pressure and diabetes, which are treatable, to lower the rates of dementia.
Part of the importance of the study was due to the fact that it was a long-term, 12-year study, carried out between 1994 and 2006 with 3,400 patients from a broad specturm of both urban and suburban society in Seattle and representing African Americans, Asians, Caucasians and Hispanics with varying educational and professional backgrounds. Study participants were part of the Group Health Cooperative (GHC), one of the largest and oldest managed medical care programs in the country. The findings are also important because study subjects weren’t in nursing homes nor was the study limited by factors such as ethnicity, gender or race, as some studies have been.
GHC members who had normal cognitive abilities at age 65 were eligible to volunteer for the Adult Changes in Thought (ACT) study, which was begun by Dr. Eric Larsen, the GHC research director. Volunteers underwent biennial neurological, psychological and cognitive testing until their deaths. Roughly one-third of participants died, with autopsies performed on the 221 who had consented. Founded in 1947, GHC is a nonprofit health care system serving more than half a million Idaho and Washington residents.
In related news, a recent study indicated that persons carrying extra weight in the mid-section during their 40s are at greater risk of later developing dementia: the more obese the patient, the greater the risk.
Read a more personal account of one family’s experience with their mother’s gradual decline into dementia.
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