Treating the mind could literally start with therapies for the heart. As many as 20 percent of the 6.8 million Americans with dementia actually suffer from a combination of Alzheimer's disease and vascular dementia, which results when high cholesterol, blood pressure, smoking or other factors damage blood vessels in the brain. Kenneth Langa of the University of Michigan Health System and his colleagues reviewed all medical studies linked to this mixed dementia from the past 10 years. They found that memory-preserving anti-Alzheimer's drugs led to at best a slight improvement or slowed decline of cognitive function. On the other hand, heart-protecting therapies had significant benefits for mixed dementia. They conclude that treatments against cardiovascular risk factors, especially high blood pressure, may be more effective than expensive memory drugs in protecting brain function. The report appears in the December 15 Journal of the American Medical Association.
This article was originally published with the title "Cardio Therapy for the Mind" in Scientific American 292, 2, 32 (February 2005)