Taking beta blockers may reduce the risk of developing dementia, researchers suggest.
People taking the blood pressure drugs may be less likely to have changes in the brain that can be signs of Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia, according to a study results revealed today.
The study builds on earlier research that has shown that hypertension in midlife is a strong risk factor for dementia.
The new findings are due to be presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s annual meeting in San Diego during March.
The study involved 774 elderly Japanese-American men who had autopsies performed on them after their death.
Of the 774 men, 610 had hypertension or were being treated for it. Among those who had been treated – about 350 – 15% received only a beta blocker, 18% received a beta blocker plus one or more other medications, and the rest of the participants received other blood pressure drugs.
The researchers found all types of anti-hypertensive treatment were better than no treatment. However, men who received beta blockers as their only hypertension treatment had fewer brain abnormalities than those who had not been treated or who received other blood pressure drugs.
The brains of participants who had received beta blockers plus other medications showed an intermediate reduction in numbers of brain abnormalities, including those indicating Alzheimer’s disease.
Men who had taken beta blockers alone or in combination with another blood pressure medication also had significantly less shrinkage in their brains.
Study author Lon White, from the Pacific Health Research and Education Institute in Honolulu, said: “These results are exciting, especially since beta blockers are a common treatment for high blood pressure.
“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.”
Dr Simon Ridley, head of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, agreed that hypertension was a known risk factor for Alzheimer’s and other causes of dementia.
He said: “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.
“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.”