Stiffness of the Aorta is a Risk for Dementia that can be Changed

Illustration of a cross-section of a healthy human heart, including the heart valves. (NIH, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute)

A dementia risk that can be changed even in seniors aged 70-80 was discovered by researchers from the University of Pittsburgh and this was published October 16, 2018, in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. The researchers led by Rachel H. Mackey discovered that seniors with stiffness of the aorta, which is a main blood vessel that carries blood from the heart, had a higher risk of dementia than seniors who did not have aortic stiffness. Aging, high blood pressure and diabetes can lead to a stiffening of the aorta, which is a risk for dementia.

The Cardiovascular Health Study Cognition Study

The researchers from the University of Pittsburgh followed after 532 non-demented seniors with annual cognitive tests from 1998-99 to 2013. Aortic stiffness was measured by carotid-general pulse wave velocity (cfPWV). In cases where there is aortic stiffness, this causes problems with the blood flow and this in turn can damage small arteries in the brain, which might lead to dementia and the deposition of beta amyloid plaque in the brain. Further, the stiff aorta also raised systolic blood pressure, increased the heart beat and made for a wider waist than when the participants first joined the study.

The Rotterdam Study

Aortic stiffness is also a risk for strokes and coronary heart disease, according to the third phase of the Rotterdam Study, which is a population-based cohort study comprising 7983 men and women aged 55 and older living in Ommoord, a suburb of Rotterdam, in the Netherlands. Dutch researchers tested the aortic pulse wave velocity and carotid distensibility of 2835 participants. As the aortic pulse wave velocity increased in people, so did the risk for strokes and coronary heart disease increase. Their results were published in Circulation, a Journal of the American Heart Association in 2006.


Since aortic stiffness can be treated with blood pressure lowering drugs and lifestyle changes, it may be possible for seniors over age 70 or 80 to reduce the stiffness of their aorta, which could prevent them from developing dementia.

Anti-oxidant MitoQ

In fact, an anti-oxidant supplement Mitoubiquinone mesylate (MitoQ) was shown to reduce aortic stiffness by 15 years in a study published April 16, 2018, in Hypertension, a Journal of the American Heart Association. MitoQ was able to improve oxidative aging of blood vessels by as much as 15 years. This was the first time that MitoQ was tested on humans, as previously it had only been tested on mice. Participants in the human trial were seniors who had problems with brachial artery flow, but after taking the supplement MitoQ or a placebo for six weeks, those who took the MitoQ showed 42% improvement on their brachial artery flow. Stiffness of their  aortas was reduced and blood levels of oxidized LDL cholesterol were also reduced. This supplement has the ability to prevent coronary artery disease and by improving aortal stiffness may also prevent Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

Lifestyle Changes

Anything which can stop oxidative stress and aging should be tried to reverse the stiffness of the aorta. For example:

  • Quit smoking
  • Quit or reduce intake of alcoholic beverages
  • Keep your blood pressure under control and if necessary take prescribed drug pressure lowering drugs..
  • Add lots of fresh fruits and vegetables to your diet.
  • Eat legumes and whole grain cereals and bread.
  • Cut back on red meat and eat more fish.
  • Eliminate processed meats that have also been associated with a high risk for colorectal cancer.
  • Get plenty of physical exercise.
  • If you are overweight then lose weight.
  • If you are a diabetic make sure your blood sugar levels are under control.
  • Find a way to manage stress.

Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common dementia found worldwide and is estimated to affect over five million Americans. It is a progressive neurodegenerative disease and to date, no cure or way of preventing it or stopping its progressive decline has been found. While it starts silently and slowly, by the time there are symptoms a lot of brain damage has already taken place. For some reason, perhaps due to a virus or some other unknown cause, the protein beta amyloid gets deposited in the brain and forms into plaques and another protein tau is also deposited in the brain and forms into tangles. This leads to the destruction of nerve cells (neurons) in the brain, which in turn causes severe memory loss, psychiatric behavior problems and personality changes. As it is progressive, people afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease may reach a state where they no longer recognize family members, even their husbands or wives. This disease takes a tremendous emotional and financial burden on their spouses and families.

Long-term Skilled Nursing and Memory Care

If your demented loved one must go to a long-term skilled nursing facility, then make sure to choose one that has a special memory care unit like the Van Duyn Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing in Syracuse, New York.


Anything that might prevent Alzheimer’s disease and dementia has to be welcomed. Every senior should see their doctor to be tested to see if their aorta is flexible and not stiff.

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