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Beta blockers linked to lower dementia risk

Brain changes linked to dementia less likely in those on beta blockers

Louise Prime

Tuesday, 08 January 2013

People taking beta blockers may be less likely to develop dementia, research has suggested.

US researchers assessed autopsy results from 774 Japanese-American men who had been taking part in the Honolulu-Asia Aging Study, looking for signs of Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia. They also examined records of the men’s blood pressure in mid-life and any medicines that they had taken.

Of the 610 men who had had hypertension, the 15%who had been taking beta blockers alone had fewer signs of brain changes linked to dementia – either microinfarcts or changes linked to Alzheimer’s disease – than the men who had taken other or no antihypertensive drugs. There was an intermediate reduction in risk for men taking beta blockers as well as other antihypertensives. The brains of men who had been taking beta blockers, either alone or in combination, also showed significantly less shrinkage.

Authors of the study, which will be presented in March at the American Academy of Neurology Annual Meeting, said: “With the number of people with Alzheimer’s disease expected to grow significantly as our population ages, it is increasingly important to identify factors that could delay or prevent the disease. These results are exciting, especially since beta blockers are a common treatment for high blood pressure.”

Dr Simon Ridley, head of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, was more cautious. He said: “Hypertension is a known risk factor for Alzheimer’s and other causes of dementia, and keeping high blood pressure in check could be important for preventing these diseases. This study suggests a link between the use of beta blockers and fewer signs of dementia, but as the results of this study have yet to be published in full, it’s not clear what caused this link. It’s important to note that this study only looked at Japanese-American men, and these results may not be applicable to the wider population.

“While we can’t conclude from this study that beta blockers can prevent dementia, a better understanding of the links between high blood pressure and dementia could be crucial for developing new treatments or approaches to prevention. With 820,000 people affected by dementia in the UK, and that number increasing, we urgently need to find ways to prevent the diseases that cause it.”

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