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Health, Science & Tech
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Dementia Linked To Health Of Arteries, Pitt Researchers Find

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National Institutes of Health
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Arteries become less elastic as we age, but exercise and medications can help slow the process.

While at rest, the human heart pulses blood through the body about 50 to 100 times every minute. But organs and tissues need a constant flow of blood, so the arteries stretch in response to each pulse to create steady pressure within the blood vessels.

As we age, our arteries become less elastic and more stiff. That arterial stiffness can help predict a patient's risk of dementia, according to a new study from the University of Pittsburgh.

"The small cerebral artieries are especially vulnerable to that ... extreme variation in the blood pressure," said Mackey. "What the cells really need is steady blood flow."

Researchers looked at 356 older adults over the course of 15 years. Those with greater arterial stiffness were 60 percent more likely to develop dementia. 

“Why that’s so exciting is that we know we can modify arterial stiffness through blood pressure medications, reducing weight and physical activity,” said senior author Rachel Mackey who specializes in cardiovascular epidemiology. “That suggests we could still affect the trajectory, the time to dementia, in these older adults.” 

The study's first author is Mackey's doctoral student Chendi Cui. The anaylsis was published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.  

WESA receives funding from the University of Pittsburgh.