Research Looks at Link between Inflammation and Alzheimer’s-type Brain Changes

CLEVELAND – The number of Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease is growing with more than five million people suffering nationwide.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the number of people living with Alzheimer’s disease is expected to rise to 14 million by the year 2050.

Now, new research is aiming to learn more about what might cause some people to develop the disease.

Researchers used blood tests to detect inflammation in more 1,633 people with an average age of 53.

After 24 years, participants took a memory test and had brain scans to measure brain volume in several key areas.

Stephen Rao, Ph.D., of Cleveland Clinic did not take part in the study, but said the research showed an association between mid-life inflammation and the type of brain shrinkage that is associated with Alzheimer’s.

“What it’s suggesting is that people in midlife who have a higher levels of systemic inflammation for whatever reason, later on in life, 25 years later, can show greater brain atrophy and greater problems with memory.”

RELATED: Study: Mid-Life Health Tied to Late-Life Alzheimer’s Risk

Systemic, or chronic inflammation can result from conditions such as osteoarthritis, auto-immune disorders or other factors such as obesity and smoking. 

The study results also showed that those who had higher levels of chronic inflammation at mid-life not only had more brain shrinkage, but also had greater difficulty performing the memory test. 

Dr. Rao said the relationship between inflammation and Alzheimer’s-type brain aging has been noted by previous studies, but experts don’t know for sure is which came first, or what’s causing what.

He said while the study doesn’t give us certainty that these brain changes are a result of inflammation, it opens the door to new avenues of research and hopefully treatment for Alzheimer’s disease down the road.

“I think the main take home message is that Alzheimer’s disease is a very complex disease and may have multiple different causes and ultimately, like cancer, we may find many different types of treatments to prevent people from developing Alzheimer’s disease,” said Dr. Rao.

Complete results of the study can be found in the journal Neurology.