July 18, 2011 (Paris) -- Women who are taking a baby aspirin or two a day for their heart health may be safeguarding their brain health, too, preliminary research suggests.
In a five-year study of more than 100 older people at similar risk for heart disease, scores on a standardized test that gauges memory and other cognitive skills increased slightly in women who took 75 to 150 milligrams of aspirin a day while dropping in those who didn't take aspirin.
Still, "this does not mean low-dose aspirin will prevent or treat Alzheimer's disease," says Maria Carrillo, PhD, senior director of medical and scientific relations at the Alzheimer’s Association.
"Don't start taking aspirin on your own," she says. Carrillo was not involved with the research, presented at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference 2011.
Both cardiovascular disease and cognitive decline are major causes of disability in the elderly. Increasing evidence suggests that inflammation plays a major role in the development of not only heart disease, but of dementia as well.
Aspirin is an anti-inflammatory drug that is widely prescribed to prevent heart disease. But studies looking at whether anti-inflammatory drugs protect brain health have shown conflicting results.
The new study sought to examine a possible protective effect of low-dose aspirin treatment on cognitive function in older people at high risk for cardiovascular disease.
The study involved 605 people aged 70 to 92 with no signs of dementia. They filled out a questionnaire that asked about their overall health, their medical history, and their medications.
Participants also underwent physical and psychiatric examinations and were given the Mini Mental State Exam (MMSE), a brief test of cognitive skills, including attention span and memory. The MMSE is used to help doctors make a diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment or Alzheimer's dementia.
Of the 605 participants, 107 were taking 75 to 150 milligrams of aspirin daily. The aspirin and the no-aspirin groups had a similar risk of developing cardiovascular disease over the next 10 years.
Brain Health: Men vs. Women
Over five years, scores on the 30-point MMSE, in which higher scores correspond to better cognitive health, dropped by an average of about half a point in the aspirin group, compared with about a point in the no-aspirin group.