Those with a gene that puts them at greater risk of Alzheimer’s had better brain function if they had previously taken hormone replacement therapy, a study found.
Dr Rasha Saleh, from the University of East Anglia’s Norwich Medical School, said: “This is really important because there have been very limited drug options for Alzheimer’s for 20 years and there is an urgent need for new treatments.
“The effects of HRT in this observation study, if confirmed in an intervention trial, would equate to a brain age that is several years younger.”
A quarter of women carry a gene called APOE4 which makes them more likely to be struck by the disease.
Those who took HRT had better memory and thinking skills and larger brain volumes in later life, the study found.
The drugs are taken by around one million UK women, often to control menopausal symptoms such as anxiety and night sweats. Professor Anne-Marie Minihane, of the Norwich Institute for Healthy Ageing at UEA, said: “We know that 25 per cent of women in the UK are carriers of the APOE4 gene and that almost two-thirds of Alzheimer’s patients are women.
“The reason behind the higher female prevalence is thought to be related to the effects of menopause and the impact of the APOE4 genetic risk factor being greater in women.
“We wanted to find out whether HRT could prevent cognitive decline in at-risk APOE4 carriers.”
The UEA team investigated the impact of HRT on brain decline using data from 1,178 women enrolled in the European Prevention of Alzheimer’s Dementia study.
Women who carried the APOE4 gene and took HRT scored higher in tests of attention, memory, language and coordination when performing physical tasks.
The research was published in the Alzheimer’s Research and Therapy journal.