There is a renewed hope for women concerned about developing Alzheimer’s. A new study published in the journal Neurology concluded that women who take hormone therapy within five years of menopause have a 30 percent reduced risk of getting Alzheimer’s later in life.
The study led by a researcher at Johns Hopkins University followed 1,768 women 65 and older for eleven years in Cache County, Utah.
Stanford professor and doctor Victor Henderson was asked by one of the lead researchers to evaluate the study before it was published. He said it’s an important study, but warns women not to start hormone therapy to prevent Alzheimer’s Disease.
“I think it’s still too soon to say this opens the door a lot,” said Dr. Henderson. “I think it does provide impetus for more study. It does provide some reassurance for women contemplating hormone therapy mid-life.”
More study is needed, especially because about two decades ago, hormone therapy was advocated as a way to prevent different chronic diseases, but Dr. Henderson said multiple studies would later conclude the exact opposite: an increase in heart disease and heart attacks. He added that the latest study showed perhaps introducing hormone therapy earlier in life as opposed to later in life might have benefits, but he doesn’t believe there’s enough science to back it up. Dr. Henderson wants clinical trials to follow up on this cohort study.
“You can’t take findings like this and convert them to that kind of simple clinical recommendation,” said Henderson.
But San Ramon doctor Jeffrey Riopelle, whose clinic has offered hormone therapy for the last 15 years, believes that estrogen treatment is a lot more beneficial than the medical world currently gives it credit for.
“It needs to be used in a certain time of life, particularly in the 40’s and 50’s when women are just starting to go into menopause,” said Riopelle.
He added that it’s not just a matter of when you use estrogen therapy, but how. Dr. Riopelle said applying it topically, not orally, skips any harmful effects tied to the therapy in previous studies.
“Gradually, physicians I think are coming to understand if it’s taken – put on topically – it doesn’t convert to the estrone, the bad form. It can be helpful,” said Dr. Riopelle. “It doesn’t have the dangers, so women are starting to come in more, asking for it.”
In the end, Dr. Henderson stresses that women in their mid-life should only take hormone replacement therapy if they want to treat extreme menopausal symptoms, like intense hot flashes.
As for the Alzheimer’s effect, he said it’s best to wait for more science to back up this latest study.
“I think it sort of pushes broader field – what can one do during midlife to affect risk of late life cognitive decline? That becomes important for a lot of baby boomers. I’m one of them. We want to know what can we do,” said Henderson.
Dr. Henderson said there are two big clinical trials, one finished and one on the verge of starting, set to be released next year. The studies are not on Alzheimer’s in particular, but do study how estrogen impacts women in their mid-life and their cognitive abilities.
The Alzheimer's Association is holding a Circle of Care conference this weekend in Foster City. It's open to the public and will have the latest research on the disease plus lots of resources for caregivers. You can get details at Alz.org and look for the Circle of Care Conference on the front page.