Study links arterial problems to Alzheimer’s

Poor cardiovascular health may not only lead to heart problems but could also increase the risk for Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

On Tuesday, researchers from the University of Pittsburgh and University of Virginia published an article in the academic journal Neurology. In the study, which began in 2009, researchers examined 91 elderly individuals between the ages of 83 and 96, none of whom were diagnosed with dementia.  

The research began with all subjects completing both MRI and PET imaging brain scans. Two years later, the researchers performed a series of cardiovascular tests that measured blood pressure, arterial stiffness and arterial pressure.

Participants who suffered from arterial stiffness — or hardening of the arteries — were most likely to experience two subsequent effects within the brain. The stiff arteries were correlated with buildup of amyloid plaque, a protein linked to Alzheimer’s disease. The arterial stiffness was also related to damage of the brain’s white matter, which houses its communicative pathways.

White matter damage and plaque buildup “has been suggested to be a ‘double hit’ contributing to the development of symptomatic dementia,” the researchers said in the article.