ACE inhibitors, which are used to lower blood pressure, can slow the rate of cognitive decline typical of dementia, according to new research.
Furthermore, the drugs may even boost brain power, according to researchers from University College Cork in Ireland and McMaster University in Ontario, Canada.
The scientists 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. Of those, 85 were already taking ACE inhibitors.
The researchers also assessed the impact of ACE inhibitors on the brain power of 30 patients who had new prescriptions for these drugs, following them for the first six months of their treatment. Average age of all the participants was 77.
Between 1999 and 2010, 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. Each patient was assessed on two separate occasions, six months apart.
The researchers found that those patients taking ACE inhibitors experienced marginally slower rates of cognitive decline.
In those whose brain power had been assessed by Qmci, which is a more sensitive screen than the SMMSE, the difference was small, but significant, the study found.
The researchers also discovered that the brain power of the patients with new prescriptions for the drugs actually improved over the six-month period, compared with those already taking them and those not taking them at all.
This might be because these patients stuck to their medication regimen better, or it might be a byproduct of better blood pressure control, or improved blood flow to the brain, the researchers suggest.
This is the first time there has been any evidence to suggest that blood pressure drugs may not only halt cognitive decline, but may actually improve brain power, according to the scientists.
“Although the differences were small and of uncertain clinical significance, if sustained over years, the compounding effects may well have significant clinical benefits,” they write in the study, which was published in the online journal BMJ Open.
They caution, however, that recent evidence indicates that ACE inhibitors may be harmful in some cases. If larger studies confirm that the drugs work well in dementia, it may be only certain groups of patients who stand to benefit, they add.
Source: BMJ-British Medical Journal