A new study conducted by researchers from University of College Cork in Ireland, as well as McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, showed that blood pressure drugs may also slow the progression of dementia, and boost brain power. The study was published in BMJ Open.

Dementia, an umbrella term for diseases ranging from Alzheimer's to Huntington's disease, affects millions of people in the U.S. The number of people with some form of dementia is expected to increase, as the population of those over the age of 60 continues to grow.

In the study, a group of 361 patients who suffered from Alzheimer's disease or another form of dementia were followed from 1999 to 2010. Eighty-five percent of these patients were taking centrally acting ACE inhibitors (CACE-I drugs) to control their blood pressure. Researchers were able to identify a small, yet significant, difference between the mental decline of both groups. Tested with the 30-point Standardized Mini-Mental Status Examination, scores of patients who took ACE inhibitors declined an average 1.8 points over the course of six months, while those who did not take ACE inhibitors declined by 2.1 points over the same time period.

Alzheimer's Research UK stated that high blood pressure and other cardiovascular factors have been linked to cognitive decline in the past. In vascular dementia, the second most common form of dementia next to Alzheimer's, diminished blood flow to the brain can cause damage to the brain and cognitive abilities. 

Some doctors see the importance of this study in its larger message: improving cardiovascular health improves cognitive health. Because the cardiovascular system brings blood to the brain, the risk factors for vascular dementia are identical to the risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Thus, it's all the more important to adopt healthy lifestyle changes, such as exercising regularly, eating a balanced diet low in sodium and cholesterol, and quitting smoking.

Though the research may offer hope to those suffering from dementia, it was only an observational test, not a clinical one. It's important to wait until clinical trials are completed and more conclusive evidence formed, before using blood pressure drugs to treat dementia, says, Dr. Simon Ridley, head of research at Alzheimer's Research UK.

"Understanding more about risk factors for dementia is vital and can help shape public health programs in the future, but investment in research must remain high if we are to make this progress," he said.

Source: Y. Gao, R. O'Caoimh, L. Healy, D. M. Kerins, J. Eustace, G. Guyatt, D. Sammon, D. W. Molloy. Effects of centrally acting ACE inhibitors on the rate of cognitive decline in dementia. BMJ Open, 2013.