Nearly 50 percent of elderly people over age 85 have Alzheimer's disease. Now, researchers say a certain type of hormone therapy may cause some postmenopausal women to develop dementia, which is a symptom associated with many cognitive disorders, including Alzheimer's.
Researchers from Wake Forest University studied more than 4,500 postmenopausal women who were all involved in the Women's Health Initiative. The WHI came to an early end last year because of increased health risks in women receiving the combined hormone therapy. In a small portion of that study regarding memory -- called the Women's Health Initiative Memory Study (WHIMS) -- researchers compared cognitive function in women on hormone therapy to women who received a placebo.
Researchers found 66 percent of the women on combined hormone therapy were diagnosed with probable dementia. This was compared to 34 percent in the placebo group. Patients, whom researchers believed developed dementia as a result of taking the hormone therapy, were given neuro-psychological tests and were evaluated by physicians. Authors of the study say the results are unexpected and are in striking contrast to most of the earlier research on the effects of hormone therapy on Alzheimer's and dementia.
Researchers say the combined hormone therapy should not be prescribed to women with the intent of enhancing cognitive performance because it has the opposite effect. They write, "The WHIMS estrogen plus progestin data reinforce the conclusion that the risks of estrogen plus progestin outweigh the benefits."