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Stiff Arteries Could Predict Dementia

February 13th, 2019

Could a person’s heart health provide clues about their dementia risk? Study findings from University of Pittsburgh doctoral student Chendi Cui, PhD, and her team published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, found that stiffness in the aorta—the body’s main artery—is associated with an increased risk of dementia.

As part of the long-term Cardiovascular Health Study at Pitt, researchers measured aortic stiffness using a non-invasive test called pulse wave velocity (PWV) and assessed brain health in 356 older adults who had no signs of dementia when the study began in 1998. Of the 356 participants, 212 went on to develop dementia over the course of 15 years. Researchers analyzed the data and found that subjects with high baseline PWV readings were 60 percent more likely to develop dementia during the 15 years of follow up compared to those with lower PWV values. 

“As the large arteries get stiffer, their ability to cushion the pumping of blood from the heart is diminished, and that transmits increased pulsing force to the brain, which contributes to silent brain damage that increases dementia risk,” explained senior author Rachel Mackey, PhD, MPH. The association between dementia and arterial stiffness is significant because at-risk patients may have the power to prevent or delay the onset of dementia by taking blood pressure medications and increasing physical activity, both of which have been shown to improve arterial stiffness.

Learn more about Heart and Circulation studies on Pitt+Me.

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