If you’ve got get the occasional dizzy spell when you stand up too fast, you might suffer from orthostatic hypotension (OH), a form of low blood pressure. If you do, the chances are that you may also have an increased risk of dementia.
New research out this week, conducted over a period of 24 years, finds that people with OH have a 15 per cent increase in their long-term risk of dementia, including Alzheimer's disease.
“OH was present in nearly one in five participants and was associated with a 15 per cent increase in long-term risk of dementia,” the study reads.
“The risk of developing dementia was highest in those with OH lacking a compensatory increase in heart rate.
“Similarly, higher variability in blood pressure related to postural change was associated with a higher risk of dementia, even in individuals without a formal diagnosis of OH.”
“OH was present in nearly one in five participants and was associated with a 15 per cent increase in long-term risk of dementia."
The researchers followed more than 6,000 people in the Netherlands, without dementia and aged around 68.5 on average, for over two decades to determine whether OH and dementia are linked.
They found that almost 20 per cent of participants in the study developed dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, Parkinson’s dementia, and other dementias.
Orthostatic hypotension at baseline, which was present in 18.6 per cent of participants, was associated with a 15 per cent relative increase in all dementia types.
The research from the Erasmus Medical Center, published in PLOS Medicine, did not discover a cause-effect relationship but rather found an association between OH and dementia.
For this reason, the researchers did not conclude why dizziness is related to dementia in some people but they did theorise that brief dizzy episodes could mean there was a lack of oxygen to the brain, which had a detrimental effect on brain tissue.
Alzheimer’s Australia National CEO Maree McCabe tells SBS that she supports these research findings.
She says they further define the brain and heart health link that the organisation has been discussing for a while now, as it pushes for community-wide awareness about the importance of preventing dementia.
“The research has been showing us for some time that there is a potential link between brain-health and cardiovascular health," says Ms McCabe.
"We know what’s good for the heart is good for the brain.
“Challenging your brain, learning new things and staying socially engaged can also improve brain-health as we age.”
However, Ms McCabe stresses that anyone who is concerned about experiencing dizzy spells or having an increased risk of dementia should consult a healthcare professional.
“There are many signs and symptoms of dementia which can affect thinking, behaviour and the ability to perform everyday tasks, but it may not be dementia.”
“With an early diagnosis people who are living with dementia can access the support and services they require to continue to live a life in the way that is important to them with as much support as needed to remain as independent as possible.”
The stress-dementia link: New research
In other new research, out today, scientists have discovered a possible association between the stress hormone cortisol and the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
Researchers from Edith Cowan University’s School of Medical and Health Sciences measured the cortisol and memory function of 416 healthy adults over six years.
They also scanned the brains of the participants to measure their levels of the plaque Amyloid Beta (Aβ), as the accumulation of Aβ in the brain is closely associated with the development of Alzheimer’s disease.
The researchers found that among adults with high levels of Aβ in their brain, those with higher levels of cortisol experienced a greater rate of memory decline than those with low levels of cortisol.
“These findings, when taken together with other substances in the blood, may pave the way for us to be able to better predict cognitive decline in preclinical Alzheimer’s patients."
Lead researcher Associate Professor Simon Laws said the results may suggest that high levels of cortisol may accelerate the cognitive decline in preclinical Alzheimer's disease (before clinical symptoms begin to show).
“These findings, when taken together with other substances in the blood, may pave the way for us to be able to better predict cognitive decline in preclinical Alzheimer’s patients,” he says.
Associate Professor Laws says that while this study also didn’t establish a direct link between stress and Alzheimer’s disease, reducing stress was still a good idea.
"Alzheimer's disease is extremely complicated so it's perhaps not as simple as reducing cortisol to lower your chances of developing it.
“What this research does suggest is that this may very well be another health benefit, in addition to other well proven health benefits that result from minimising stress in your life”.