Those suffering from an autoimmune disorder could be up to 20% more likely to develop dementia later in their lilves, one study has found.
The study in question, conducted between 1999 and 2012, found that a common symptom of autoimmune disorders – chronic inflammation – may in fact be a causing factor of Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Studies carried out in the past reinforce this claim, finding that infections and inflammatory diseases such as diabetes can push a person’s immune system to the limit, causing antibodies to attack completely healthy brain cells.
Effects vary from disease to disease
The results of the analysis following the study have found that some diseases are more likely to produce symptoms that encourage the development of dementia. One that was found to have a particularly prevalent effect was multiple sclerosis, a disorder where the human immune system attacks the nervous system.
Other diseases and infections have also been linked to dementia. One skin condition, psoriasis, was even found to increase dementia risk by 29%. One slightly rarer skin condition, lupus erythematosus, was shown to increase dementia risk by an extreme 46%.
People suffering from more common conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, however, were only found to have a 10% increase in dementia risk, which was surprising to researchers considering the level of inflammation that it causes. This is believed to be because arthritis sufferers commonly take anti-inflammatory medications such as aspirin, which may well quell the effects.
The heart sits at the centre of the causes
The research study, conducted by Michael Goldacre and team from the University of Oxford, uncovered that heart and circulatory problems were strongly linked to autoimmune disease.
This result may suggest why dementia risk is so high for those suffering from autoimmune disorders. One type of dementia, vascular dementia, is linked to reduced bloodflow to the brain.
After taking a deeper look at the specific types of dementia those with autoimmune diseases develop, Goldacre found that they were 29% more likely to develop vascular dementia, but only 6% more likely to develop Alzheimer’s.
Colm Cunningham of Trinity College in Dublin commented on the results:
“It’s striking that increased risk for vascular dementia exceeds that of Alzheimer’s. The impact of autoimmune diseases on cardiovascular disease may be the key common link.”
A greater understanding of dementia as a whole
Regardless of the surprising results, they may still offer experts an interesting insight into the link between autoimmune diseases and vascular dementia overall. One leading researcher from Massachusetts General Hospital in Charlestown, Rudolph Tanzi, added:
“The results are very compelling and support the notion that neurovascular damage and inflammation are key drivers of risk for Alzheimer’s disease.”
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