The Link Between Vascular Disease and Alzheimer’s

The Link Between Vascular Disease and Alzheimer’s

Vascular disease risk factors were associated with late-life dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

As Alzheimer’s disease has become more of an issue for older Americans, scientists have started looking for early signs and other medical conditions that may influence the development of this condition.

A new study from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine indicates that vascular risk factors are associated with a sign of Alzheimer’s disease called brain amyloid.

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive neurological condition in which patients lose memory and thinking skills. Eventually they become incapable of caring for themselves or performing even the smallest of daily tasks.

The National Institute on Aging notes that more than five million Americans may have Alzheimer’s disease. It is the sixth leading cause of death in the US, but may actually be third among older people. Vascular (blood vessel) disease may also result in dementia and scientists wondered if there was a connection between the two.

Rebecca F. Gottesman, M.D., Ph.D and colleagues studied 346 people who had participated in a study on vascular risk.

Dr. Gottesman is a neurologist and epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland.

The initial study began in 1987; the purpose was to collect data on vascular risk factors. Researchers included data on smoking status, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and obesity, all of which have been linked to increased risk of vascular disease. None of the patients had dementia when they entered the study.

In 2015, patients underwent PET scanning – a form of imaging study that can show very small structural changes in the brain. The PET scan showed that vascular risk factors were associated with elevated levels of brain amyloid – protein fragments in the brain that have been linked with Alzheimer’s disease.

Developing vascular risk factors late in life was not associated with Alzheimer’s disease, but vascular risks in midlife were associated with amyloid development. Having two or more vascular risk factors nearly doubled the risk of amyloid development in the brain.

Dr. Gottesman and colleagues found that there was no difference between Caucasians and other groups such as Asians or African Americans in terms of the connection between vascular risk factors and amyloid development.

The authors noted that their findings indicate vascular disease in midlife does have a role in the development of Alzheimer’s later in life.

The study was published in the April issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Information on study funding and conflict of interest was not available.

Medical Express, “Findings support role of vascular disease in development of Alzheimer’s disease”
Journal of the American Medical Association, “Association Between Midlife Vascular Risk Factors and Estimated Brain Amyloid Deposition”
National Institute on Aging, “Fact Sheet on Alzheimer’s Disease”
Written by: Beth Greenwood, RN | Medically reviewed by: Dr. Robert Carlson, M.D.