Older people with hardening of the arteries are more likely to have a build-up of beta-amyloid plaques in the brain, even if they have no visible signs of dementia, according to new research. Amyloid plaques are a major hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease. The study, published in Neurology today (Wednesday 16 October), scanned the brains of 91 people aged between 83-96 years who did not have dementia. They measured the amount of beta-amyloid plaques in their brains and two years later they also measured the stiffness of their arteries. Amyloid plaques were seen in half of the participants and were significantly more likely to be present in people with hardening of their arteries.
Hardening of the arteries, also known as atherosclerosis, is a known risk factor for dementia because it raises blood pressure and can cause damage to blood vessels in the brain. However, this study found that people with hardened arteries were more likely to have beta-amyloid plaques even in the absence of high blood pressure, suggesting that atherosclerosis might contribute to dementia in more than one way.
Alzheimer’s Society comment:
‘This research suggests that hardening of the blood vessels could contribute to dementia in more than one way, providing further evidence that what’s good for your heart is good for your brain. You can be kind to these vital organs and reduce your risk of developing dementia by taking part in regular exercise, eating a balanced diet and avoiding smoking. People over 40 should also get their blood pressure checked regularly. This study reaffirms this guidance, suggesting a link between high blood pressure and beta-amyloid plaques in the brain, which are a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease.
‘It’s important to note that this research was conducted in older people without dementia, so we don’t know if the increase in amyloid plaques in those with hardened arteries would be enough to cause the condition. Understanding the progression of Alzheimer’s before symptoms become apparent is vital in helping us unravel the underlying causes of dementia and ultimately finding a cure.’