Dementia causes are the subject of many research studies worldwide. Trying to discover what causes one person to lose cognitive function and another very similar individual to remain untouched is a mystery to the medical communities. Scientists at the University of Oxford have shown a link between various autoimmune diseases and dementia. They say persons with almost any type of autoimmune disease appear to have a heightened risk of developing dementia. Of 25 autoimmune diseases they studied, 18 showed a positive association with dementia. Researchers Wotton and Goldacre advised physicians to be aware of a heightened risk of dementia in elderly sufferers of the autoimmune disease.
The objective of the study was to determine "whether hospital admissions for autoimmune disease is associated with an elevated risk of future dementia". The scientists studied data of hospital admissions in England for 14 years, from 1998 to 2012. Nearly two million people with an autoimmune disease entered hospitals during this time.
Autoimmune disease is a condition in which the body's immune system goes awry and begins sending antibodies to areas where they are not needed. In other words, the body begins attacking parts of itself. Examples of autoimmune diseases are multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis, Addison's disease, psoriasis, lupus and many others.
The results of the study showed an association between autoimmune disease and future development of dementia. Persons with autoimmune disorders were significantly more likely to develop dementia.
The risk of vascular dementia was particularly high. The researchers theorized that this might be due to autoimmune diseases' association with cardiovascular and brain vascular diseases. A person entering a hospital with an autoimmune disease runs about a 50% risk of being admitted to a hospital later for coronary heart disease or stroke. Autoimmune disease sufferers are particularly vulnerable to vascular dementia, possibly because of poor blood flow to the brain.
The good news for rheumatoid arthritis sufferers, however, is that sufferers of this autoimmune disease have a lower risk of developing dementia later. This is possibly because of anti-inflammatory medications that rheumatoid arthritis sufferers take to relieve pain. Chronic inflammation is thought to trigger dementia, including Alzheimer's disease.
Unfortunately for sufferers of the autoimmune disease multiple sclerosis, the risk of developing dementia was high, at almost 50%. Lupus also had a high risk of dementia development, at a 46% greater risk. Psoriasis sufferers were found to have a 29% increased risk of a dementia diagnosis later. As noted, of the 25 autoimmune diseases studied, 18 were associated with higher risk of dementia. The link seems clear.
The establishment of a link between autoimmune disease and dementia is a serious concern. Dementia is already a worldwide public health crisis. As the world population ages, the number of persons with dementia is projected to be about 80 million by the year 2040. In addition to this concern are the more than 80 known types of autoimmune diseases. Autoimmune diseases, in all varieties, are major causes of death and disability. If they are also associated with dementia, as they seem to be, the projected future dementia cases may be inaccurate. There may be many more cases of dementia incubating alongside autoimmune diseases.
Seniors and their caregivers should be aware that if a person has an autoimmune disease he or she is at greater risk of developing dementia. On a practical note, they can maintain a healthy diet and increase exercise. These practices ward off dementia, including Alzheimer's. An added benefit of a healthy diet and exercise is reduced inflammation. Since the autoimmune disease of rheumatoid arthritis defies the link of autoimmune disease and dementia, it may be wise for seniors and their caregivers to reduce chronic inflammation, as rheumatoid arthritis sufferers do.
Coghlan, A. (March 1, 2017). Autoimmune disorders linked to an increased risk of dementia. New Scientist. Available online at https://www.newscientist.com/article/2123274-autoimmune-disorders-linked-to-an-increased-risk-of-dementia/. Accessed March 17, 2017.
Iafrica. (March 3, 2017). Link between autoimmune disease and dementia. Iafrica.com. Available online at http://lifestyle.iafrica.com/content_feed/msn/1045815.html. Accessed March 17, 2017.
Wotton, C. J., Goldacre, M. J. (March 1, 2017). Associations between specific autoimmune diseases and subsequent dementia: retrospective record-linkage cohort study, UK. Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health. BMJ Journals. Doi: 10.1136/jech-2016-207809. Abstract available online at http://jech.bmj.com/content/early/2017/01/30/jech-2016-207809.info. Accessed March 17, 2017.
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