In a new study, scientists have disproven the theory that taking a low dose of daily aspirin reduces the cognitive symptoms of dementia such as thinking or memory problems, nor is it effective at slowing down the cognitive decline that characterizes the disease.
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The need for more effective prevention and treatment of dementia
For many years aspirin has been prescribed in low doses to those at risk of cardiovascular disease. Its use as an anti-inflammatory has led to it being investigated for use in other illnesses. However, the potentially severe side-effects of taking the medicine, such as bleeding in the brain, mean that prescriptions of aspirin should be seriously considered.
Scientists have theorized that due to aspirin’s impact on treating heart disease it may also be useful in treating diseases of the brain by reducing swelling and preventing the clotting and blood vessel narrowing that is a major cause of dementia.
Previous studies have suggested that aspirin could reduce the risk of dementia. A 2018 study published in JNeurosci used a mouse model to demonstrate that low doses of aspirin could reduce Alzheimer's disease pathology. However, it has remained unclear whether the treatment is effective in humans.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), roughly 50 million people worldwide living with dementia of some form, representing roughly 5-8% of the population aged 60 or above. This is a significant portion of the population and therefore a heavy burden on healthcare services.
In addition, the WHO estimates that by 2030, the number of people living with dementia will have risen to 82 million, and by 2050, 152 million. These predictions of age increases in the prevalence of the disease call for new and effective treatments and preventative approaches. As a major cause of disability amongst the older generation, scientists are exploring how new therapies can be devised to tackle the disease.
Aspirin is a cheap and accessible medication that was thought to possibly provide an easy to adopt route to dementia prevention for those deemed at risk. However, until now it had been unclear as to whether the medication would be effective in humans.
Low doses of aspirin do not protect people from dementia
A study published in the journal American Academy of Neurology, in its online issue Neurology®, describes how a team of researchers investigated whether aspirin could act as an effective preventative measure of dementia.
Just over 19,000 participants were recruited who were roughly aged 70 or older and did not have dementia or heart disease at the beginning of testing. The participants underwent testing of their cognitive and memory abilities intermittently, throughout the study which lasted 4.7 years. During this period, half of the participants took a 100-milligram dose of aspirin each day, and the other half took a placebo.
575 people went on to develop dementia over the course of the study, however, researchers found that those taking low-doses of aspirin were not less likely to develop the disease. They also found no difference between the groups in the rate of cognitive change.
More studies are needed
The study shows no indication that low doses of aspirin are useful in protecting people from developing dementia. However, the study ran for a relatively short period. Longer studies are needed to more thoroughly investigate the nature of aspirin and dementia.
In addition, the study used a fairly healthy participant group, it is theorized that the medication may be most effective at protecting those with poorer health. Further studies are needed before aspirin can be completely ruled out as a potential preventative method.