People who are prone to cold sores may have double the risk of dementia later in life, a study has suggested.

Researchers from Uppsala University in Sweden found that people who have been infected with the herpes simplex virus (HSV) – which causes cold sores – at some point in their lives were twice as likely to develop all forms of dementia, compared to those who were never infected.

It is thought that the virus could increase the risk of Alzheimer’s because fragments of the virus stay in your body for life and there is some evidence they travel to the brain where they trigger the creation of amyloid-beta plaques and tau, which are hallmarks of dementia.

Between 50 and 80 percent of US adults are thought to have the HSV virus. It stays dormant in the body but during times when the immune system is low, exposure to hot sun, cold wind, a cold or other illness or even stress can cause breakouts.

Researchers found that people who have been infected with the herpes simplex virus - which causes cold sores - at some point in their lives were twice as likely to develop dementia, compared to those who were never infected

Researchers found that people who have been infected with the herpes simplex virus – which causes cold sores – at some point in their lives were twice as likely to develop dementia, compared to those who were never infected

Alzheimer's is becoming more prevalent in America. The rate of deaths from the disease has increased since 2000

Alzheimer’s is becoming more prevalent in America. The rate of deaths from the disease has increased since 2000

While the study was observational and cannot prove the link, it aligns with previous findings.

For the latest research, published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, researchers studied more than 1,000 70-year-old Swedes for 15 years.

‘What’s special about this particular study is that the participants are roughly the same age, which makes the results even more reliable since age differences, which are otherwise linked to the development of dementia, cannot confuse the results,’ Erika Vestin, a medical student from Uppsala University, told Medical Xpress.

Blood samples were collected and analyzed to detect if they had the herpes simplex virus.

The researchers also collected information on dementia diagnoses and indications of cognitive impairment from participants’ medical records.

Researchers at the Memory Clinic of Uppsala University Hospital reviewed the diagnoses and classified cases as established or probable dementia.

Some 71 participants (seven percent) developed dementia and 36 (four percent) developed Alzheimer’s. 

Some 89 percent of participants who developed Alzheimer’s or dementia had the herpes simplex virus, while 82 percent of those without cognitive impairment had the virus.

Through statistical analysis, the researchers determined that having the virus doubled the risk of dementia.

Dementia is the general term for a group of conditions associated with loss of memory, language and judgement.

Alzheimer’s is the most common form of the disease, affecting more than six million Americans, while Lewy body dementia is the second most common type, with roughly one million living with the condition.

What is Alzheimer’s and how is it treated? 

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive, degenerative disease of the brain in which the build-up of abnormal proteins causes nerve cells to die.

This disrupts the transmitters that carry messages, and causes the brain to shrink. 

More than 5million people suffer from the disease in the US, where it is the 6th leading cause of death, and more than 1million Britons have it.

WHAT HAPPENS?

As brain cells die, the functions they provide are lost. 

That includes memory, orientation and the ability to think and reason. 

The progress of the disease is slow and gradual. 

On average, patients live five to seven years after diagnosis, but some may live for ten to 15 years.

EARLY SYMPTOMS:

  • Loss of short-term memory
  • Disorientation
  • Behavioral changes
  • Mood swings
  • Difficulties dealing with money or making a phone call 

LATER SYMPTOMS:

  • Severe memory loss, forgetting close family members, familiar objects or places
  • Becoming anxious and frustrated over inability to make sense of the world, leading to aggressive behavior 
  • Eventually lose ability to walk
  • May have problems eating 
  • The majority will eventually need 24-hour care   

HOW IT IS TREATED?

There is no known cure for Alzheimer’s disease.

However, some treatments are available that help alleviate some of the symptoms.

One of these is Acetylcholinesterase inhibitors which helps brain cells communicate to one another. 

Another is memantine which works by blocking a chemical called glutamate that can build-up in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease inhibiting mental function. 

As the disease progresses Alzheimer’s patients can start displaying aggressive behavior and/or may suffer from depression. Drugs can be provided to help mitigate these symptoms.   

Other non-pharmaceutical treatments like mental training to improve memory helping combat the one aspect of Alzheimer’s disease is also recommended. 

 Source: Alzheimer’s Association and the NHS

SwedenAlzheimer’s Disease

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