Aspirin Slows Elderly Mental Decline

By Amir Khan on October 5, 2012 10:24 AM EDT

An aspirin regimen is already known to reduce the risk of a heart attack, but according to a new study, published in the journal BMJ Open, one pill per day can also slow mental decline in the elderly, especially in those at high risk of cardiovascular disease.

Almost 500 women between the ages of 72 and 90 were tracked for five years, with their mental capacity tested at the beginning and end of the study. Researchers found that those who regularly used aspirin saw their test scores fall much less than those who did not take the drug.

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"Unlike other countries - Sweden is unique, it is not routine to treat women at high risk of heart disease and stroke with aspirin. This meant we had a good group for comparison," Dr. Silke Kern, one of the study's authors, told BBC News.

The women were tested using a mini mental state exam, which tests their intellectual capacity by asking questions such as "what is today's date?", "where are we today?" It also uses visual-spatial tests.

Although the results are promising, experts warned that people should not rush out to buy a bottle of aspirin.

"The results provide interesting insight into the importance of cardiovascular health on cognition, but we would urge people not to self-medicate with aspirin to try to stave off dementia," Dr. Simon Ridley, head of research at Alzheimer's Research UK, told BBC News. "The study reports no benefit from aspirin on overall dementia rates in the group, and previous trials investigating the potential of drugs like aspirin for dementia have been negative."

Dr. Kern warned that more research needs to be conducted before the regimen can be recommended to ward off dementia.

"We don't know the long term risks of taking routine aspirin," he said. "For examples ulcers and serious bleeds may outweigh the benefits we have seen. More work is needed. We will be following up the women in this study again in five years." 

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