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High pulse pressure linked to Alzheimer’s-like changes

14/11/2013

Researchers in the US have linked a measure of high blood pressure, called pulse pressure, to biological signs of Alzheimer’s disease in a group of healthy people aged between 55 and 70. The study is published online on 13 November in the journal Neurology.

Previous studies have linked cardiovascular risk factors such as high blood pressure to a higher risk of dementia, but research is underway to uncover the reasons for this association. To investigate in more detail, the research team studied a group of 177 older adults with no memory or thinking problems. Participants had their blood pressure measurements taken, including pulse pressure, which indicates the health of a person’s vascular system. They also had samples of spinal fluid taken, which were analysed for biological changes that could be indicative of the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.

The team found that those participants with a higher pulse pressure were more likely to show higher levels of the hallmark Alzheimer’s protein, tau, in their spinal fluid despite not showing clinical signs of the disease. This association was found in participants aged 55-70 rather than those aged between 70 and 100.

Dr Simon Ridley, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, the UK’s leading dementia research charity, said:

“It is clear from previous research that changes to our vascular system during life can have a negative impact on our health, including how well our brains function. While these findings link high blood pressure markers to possible indicators of early-stage Alzheimer’s, we do not know yet whether those participants with high pulse pressure actually went on to develop the disease. Investigating the risk factors for early Alzheimer’s changes in the brain could help to design treatment strategies to delay the symptoms that can be so devastating for those affected.

“If people are worried about their cardiovascular health, they should make an appointment to see their GP. Evidence also suggests other ways that we can keep our brains healthy include eating a balanced diet, regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight and not smoking.”

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