Upside to high blood pressure? Your memories might be intact

If your medicine cabinet has a bottle or two of prescription drugs to treat high blood pressure, researchers say you just might be preserving your memories, too. It turns out popular high blood pressure drugs known as angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs) significantly cut patients' chances of developing Alzheimer's disease and dementia.

The scientists at Boston University School of Medicine, looked at the incidence of dementia in 800,000 mostly male patients in the United States from 2002 to 2006. They all had heart disease and were 65 or older.

Good news considering the staggering costs of treating Alzheimer's. In the U.S. the annual direct and indirect costs of caring for someone with Alzheimer's disease is $100 billion. Over the course of an Alzheimer's patient's life, treatment will run about $174,000, according to The Alzheimer's Association.

Promising results
In the study, one group of participants took ARBs, another took an ACE inhibitor called lisinopril, a different (but equally common) type of drug used to lower blood pressure, and a third group took other heart medications.

The findings, published in the British Medical Journal, demonstrated the ARB group was significantly less likely to develop Alzheimer's disease or dementia. One explanation could be the fact that high blood pressure is a known risk factor for vascular dementia, where brain function is damaged by a series of small strokes. So curb the pressure, calm the brain's vessels.

The scientists also found that ARBs have an added effect when combined ACE inhibitors in patients who had already developed Alzheimer's or dementia. Those taking both drugs were less likely to die early or be admitted to nursing homes.

"The public health implications of finding an effective way of preventing dementia are immense," said Colleen Maxwell and David Hogan, experts in geriatric medicine at the University of Calgary, Canada, who wrote a commentary on the study.

Best-selling ARBs diovan and or valsartan are made by pharmaceutical maker Novartis, while Atacand and candesartan are made by AstraZeneca.

The researchers concede more study is needed. But experts point to this new study with hope that the development and progression of Alzheimer's may be able to be halted in the future.

Gina Roberts-Grey is a freelance journalist specializing in health, celebrity and consumer issues.
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