A drug that is used to manage high blood pressure could be helpful in the fight to treat Alzheimer’s disease, according to new research by Dutch scientists.


Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia, affecting 62 per cent of those diagnosed. There is no known cure and causes of it are still poorly understood, but research suggests that blood flow to the brain declines when the disease is in its early stages.

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A group of 44 patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease were selected for the study, which took place at Radboud University Medical Center in the Netherlands. They were either offered nilvadipine, which is used to treat high blood pressure, or a placebo, for a period of six months. The study was ‘double blind’, which means that neither the participants nor the scientists knew who was receiving which treatment. Before and after the study, the patients had the blood flow to their brains measured using an MRI scanner.

The results revealed that blood flow to the brain’s memory and learning areas increased by 20 per cent in the patients who took the nilvadipine, a calcium channel blocker that relaxes blood vessels to improve flow.

“This high blood pressure treatment holds promise as it doesn’t appear to decrease blood flow to the brain, which could cause more harm than benefit,” said the study’s lead author Dr Jurgen Claassen. “Even though no medical treatment is without risk, getting treatment for high blood pressure could be important to maintain brain health in patients with Alzheimer's disease.”

While the scientists admit that the study was only small and took place over a short period of time, they are hopeful that more research will be carried out to explore how improvement in blood flow in the brain could help slow down the progression of Alzheimer’s.

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Alice Lipscombe-SouthwellManaging editor, BBC Science Focus

Alice is the managing editor at BBC Science Focus Magazine. She has a BSc in zoology with marine zoology. Her interests include natural history, wildlife, the outdoors, health and fitness.