March 12, 1997 in Nation/World

Curbing Smoking Can Cut Alzheimer’s Risk

Boston Globe

Curbing smoking, lowering blood pressure and controlling diabetes can dramatically reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and should limit the severity of any dementia that does develop, according to a study published today.

That’s because smoking, high blood pressure and diabetes are known to contribute to strokes. And the new study, based on autopsies of nuns from the School Sisters of Notre Dame, found that small strokes in the brain are a big contributor to Alzheimer’s.

The study appears in the Journal of the American Medical Association, an issue devoted entirely to Alzheimer’s.

Researchers have suspected for nearly a century a link between Alzheimer’s and strokes, but this new review offered a rare chance to test that theory by examining the cases of 102 elderly nuns who volunteered to take annual tests when they were alive, then donated their brains for research.

Researchers found that 61 of the nuns had brain lesions sufficient to cause dementia and other symptoms. But the odds of their actually showing those symptoms went up 10-fold among those who suffered strokes in critical areas of the brain.

Preventing those strokes, which doctors have well-tested ways of achieving, would have saved 35 to 40 percent of the subjects from showing any effects of Alzheimer’s, concluded David Snowdon, associate professor of preventive medicine at the University of Kentucky and lead author of the study.

xxxx THE NUN STUDY The study is based on 678 members of the School Sisters of Notre Dame who agreed to undergo annual mental tests and to donate their brains to science.

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