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Blood Pressure Meds May Slow Decline, Boost Brainpower in Dementia Patients

Update Date: Jul 26, 2013 12:44 PM EDT

Dementia patients who take certain blood pressure medications may experience slower cognitive decline than those who don't, a new study suggests.

New research reveals that a type of drug commonly used to lower blood pressure called an ACE inhibitor slows the rate of cognitive decline in dementia patients.

The study, published in the journal BMJ Open, revealed that these drugs might even boost brainpower.

In the study, researchers compared the rates of cognitive decline in 361 patients who had either been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, vascular dementia or a mix of both. The average age of all the patients was 77.

Researchers said that 85 of the patients were already taking ACE inhibitors and the rest were not. Researchers also looked at the impact of ACE inhibitors on the brainpower of 30 patients newly prescribed these drugs, during the first six months of treatment.

The cognitive decline of each patient was assessed using either the Standardized Mini Mental State Examination (SMMSE) or the Quick Mild Cognitive Impairment (Qmci) screen on two separate occasions, six months apart.

The findings revealed that patients on ACE inhibitors experienced marginally slower rates of cognitive decline than those not taking the drugs. 

Researchers found that patients newly prescribed to ACE inhibitors actually experienced a boost in brainpower over the six-month period, compared with those already taking them and those not taking them at all.

Researchers explain that this might be because patients newly prescribed to the drug stuck to their medication regimen better.  The greater boost in brainpower could also be a by-product of better blood pressure control, or improved blood flow to the brain, according to study authors.

Researchers said that the study is the first time there has been any evidence to suggest that blood pressure lowering drugs can stall cognitive decline and improve brainpower.

"This [study] supports the growing body of evidence for the use of ACE inhibitors and other [blood pressure lowering] agents in the management of dementia," researchers wrote in the study.

"Although the differences were small and of uncertain clinical significance, if sustained over years, the compounding effects may well have significant clinical benefits," they added.

However, researchers note that some studies have shown that ACE inhibitors are harmful in some cases.  They say the next step is to confirm the recent findings and to see if only certain groups of patients with dementia benefit from the blood pressure drugs.

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