(MENAFN – The Conversation) If you want to reduce the risk of contracting Alzheimer's disease, there is no end to the Internet telling you to do it: keep your blood pressure and blood sugar level, lose weight, do more exercise, avoid type 2 diabetes. Of course, doing these things is good for general health, but our most recent studies probably do nothing to reduce the risk of getting Alzheimer's.
About 50 million people suffer from dementia and this number should triple in the next thirty years. The most common form of dementia is Alzheimer's. People with this disease have an accumulation of two proteins in the brain (beta-amyloid and tau), but it is not known whether these proteins are a cause or a consequence of the disease. What we do know is that this proliferation of tangled proteins prevents brain cells from functioning properly, hence the typical symptoms of dementia: memory loss, confusion, difficulty performing daily tasks, behavioral changes, hallucinations.
In the last decade, emphasis has been placed on the role of cardiovascular disease and diabetes in the development of dementia. For a while, the researchers knew that these things are associated with vascular dementia. Vascular dementia occurs due to damage to blood vessels, such as aseterosclerosis, which increases the risk of dangerous bleeding or blood clots in the brain. Blood clots and bleeding prevent the oxygen from reaching parts of the brain which then lead to the death of those brain cells.
Atherosclerosis increases the risk of bleeding and blood clots in the brain.
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Hypertension and diabetes increase the risk of atherosclerosis and therefore affect the release of oxygen to the brain. Some argue that the consequence of these diseases increases the changes observed in the brain in Alzheimer's disease, so it is believed that hypertension and diabetes increase the risk of developing Alzheimer's.
When considering the connection between these factors, it is important to remember how accurate dementia diagnoses are. With the tools we have today, a person will receive a diagnosis of dementia, such as Alzheimer's or vascular dementia, with an accuracy of 60-90%. Thus between 10-30% of people diagnosed with dementia get the wrong diagnosis.
The only accurate diagnosis
Most research on the association between hypertension, diabetes and Alzheimer's disease is performed in a clinic. This means that the people in these studies are alive and may have been misdiagnosed. The only way to diagnose a person's dementia disorder with an accuracy of almost 100% is through the autopsy, analyzing brain samples under a microscope, so the best way to do research on this argument is through studies based on autopsies in which it is possible to confirm that the subjects had correct diagnoses. And this is the approach we took with our most recent study.
We wanted to investigate if the onset of hypertension and diabetes differed between people diagnosed with Alzheimer's compared to those diagnosed with vascular dementia. Our research was based on 268 deceased patients over the age of 65. We analyzed brain samples to confirm a diagnosis of Alzheimer's or vascular dementia. Using medical records and the National Diabetes Register, we were able to determine whether our subjects had hypertension or diabetes, or both.
We found a high presence of both hypertension and type 2 diabetes among subjects with vascular dementia. People with Alzheimer's showed a much lower frequency than the two diseases.
In the Alzheimer's group, 37% had high blood pressure. The corresponding proportion was 74% in the group with vascular dementia. And 12% of the Alzheimer's group had suffered from diabetes, compared to 31% in the vascular dementia group. Among Swedes, 16% over 65 have diabetes. It can be assumed that having Alzheimer's has a lower risk of contracting diabetes, or having diabetes there is a lower risk of contracting Alzheimer's.
Despite these results, it is still important to maintain blood pressure control and avoid type 2 diabetes. These are factors that lead to cardiovascular disease, the leading cause of death in the world. Instead, we hope that our findings can increase our knowledge of these risk factors and types of dementia. Correct associations between risk factors and types of disease will help scientists not to draw misleading conclusions and to refrain from meaningless attempts at treatment.
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