A new study from a group of Alzheimer’s disease researchers at Augusta University is highlighting the importance of vascular disease in Alzheimer’s disease-associated cognitive decline. The research investigated the impact of microscopic blood vessels on the health of white matter in the brain, the ability of diseased blood vessels to dilate, and the resulting impact on cognition as it relates to Alzheimer’s disease.
The scientists used data from a longitudinal study called the Adult Changes in Thought Study (or ACT). This study is a joint initiative between the Kaiser Permanente Washington Research Institute and the University of Washington which examines the cognitive health of volunteers in Washington over the age of sixty-five.
The scientists looked at twenty-eight study participants with varying clinical presentations of vascular disease and Alzheimer’s disease. They used a technique called video microscopy to analyze material from the patients’ brains that was donated post mortem.
The researchers’ main finding was that in individuals diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and vascular disease, there was a higher likelihood that the microscopic blood vessels had an impaired ability to dilate in response to a blood vessel dilator. The impaired ability of blood vessels to dilate was associated with white matter injury on an MRI.
Dr. Zsolt Bagi, a researchers at Augusta University, says that “the main message of this paper is the mixed pathology as we call it — microvascular disease and Alzheimer’s — is associated with more brain damage, more white matter damage and more inflammation,”
Risk factors for developing vascular disease include diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure. The researchers note that exercise and controlling levels of blood sugar and blood pressure may be effective in preventing the development of vascular disease that impacts Alzheimer’s disease.
Understanding the complex interactions of various pathologies on Alzheimer’s disease is instrumental in helping researchers identify tactics to improve cognition or prevent Alzheimer’s disease. “You have some genetic predisposition but people realize that not everybody develops memory decline or cognitive deficits unless something else is coming in,” Bagi says.