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UC Davis study finds vascular brain injury may play significant role in Alzheimer's and other dementias

Image of a brain scan taken during the rap study. The orange colors show the parts of the brain that are active when a rapper is improvising. The blue areas show activity when the rapper is performing a rap from memory.
Image of a brain scan.

There’s yet another reason to monitor and control your blood pressure.

Scientists from the UC Davis Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center have published a study in the journal JAMA Neurology that suggests damage to our brains caused by high blood pressure and stroke may be linked to an assortment of cognitive brain problems, including dementia.  

What’s more, say researchers, such brain damage appear to pose a far greater risk for cognitive impairment than amyloid brain plaques long associated with the onset of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.

Earlier research in animals suggested that having a stroke causes more beta amyloid deposition in the brain, said Bruce Reed, associate director of the UC Davis Alzheimer's Disease Research Center.

"If that were the case, people who had more vascular brain injury should have higher levels of beta amyloid. We found no evidence to support that," Reed said in a news release.  

The second question researchers considered, according to Reed, was whether vascular brain injury or amyloid plaques had a greater negative impact on cognitive function of older, non-demented adults. 

"It was really very clear that the amyloid had very little effect, but the vascular brain injury had distinctly negative effects," Reed said. 

Researchers studied 61 Northern California residents whose ages ranged from 63 to 90 years old. They found that the more vascular brain injury a test subject had, the worse their memory and their ability to conduct a wide range of cognitive tasks, such as organizing and problem solving.

The scientists say they hope the study will lead doctors to examine whether vascular brain injury rather than brain plaques is the cause of a patient's cognitive problems. Knowing which factor is responsible for impairment could help direct more effective care.