There’s currently no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, meaning slowing down the progression of the condition is the most that many can hope for. Now, scientists believe a drug that is already being used to treat high blood pressure could be deployed to do exactly that.
Nilvadipine is a fairly cheap form of treatment and is known to increase blood flow to the brain by stopping calcium getting into arteries, as when it does they tend to relax. Better nourishment of the memory and learning centres of the brain can help to prevent the symptoms of Alzheimer’s.
Scientists at Radboud University in the Netherlands wanted to test this out and asked study participants to take nilvadipine for six months. What they found was there was a 20 per cent increase in blood flow to areas of the brain responsible for memory.
All 44 of those who took part in the research had mild to moderate Alzheimer’s and the average age of participants was 72. Half of them were given a course of nilvadipine for six months, while the others were taking placebos.
Prior to the experiment, MRI scans were carried out on all the subjects to measure the blood flow to their hippocampuses. A second scan on the memory-forming part of the brain was undertaken at the end of the six month experiment period and those who had taken the drug showed a 20 per cent better blood flow than those who’d been on the sugar pill.
On the whole, the scientists were not able to prove a clinical benefit in taking nilvadipine, which means a drug eases symptoms and improves quality of life. A small subgroup of participants with mild dementia, however, did show signs of their memory loss declining. More research is required to see if studies can prove the benefits further.
Professor Jurgen Claassen, who led the research, said: “Even though no medical treatment is without risk, getting treatment for high blood pressure could be important to maintain brain health in patients with Alzheimer's disease.
“This high blood pressure treatment holds promise as it doesn't appear to decrease blood flow to the brain, which could cause more harm than benefit.”
Experts will not be surprised with the potential for a hypertension drug to be used in treating Alzheimer’s, as some believe there is a link between high blood pressure and dementia. Having hypertension over a long period can lead to the narrowing and damaging of blood vessels in the bread, which in turn increases the risk of them becoming blocked or bursting.
Insufficient blood reaching the brain can lead to the death of cells, which over time is seen through memory loss and degenerating thinking and language skills. If these are areas that seem to be getting worse in an elderly relative then be sure to take them to see a doctor.