HRT could ward off Alzheimer’s among at-risk women

Hormone Replacement Therapy could help prevent Alzheimer’s Dementia among women at risk of developing the disease, new research shows.

A female pharmacist with black hair and a white coat is handing over a prescription to a woman with a blond hair

The study shows that Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) use is associated with better memory, cognition and larger brain volumes in later life among women carrying the APOE4 gene – the strongest risk factor gene for Alzheimer's disease.

Researchers from the Universities of Edinburgh and East Anglia found that HRT was most effective when introduced early in the menopause journey during perimenopause.

Brain health

The team studied data from 1,178 women participating in the European Prevention of Alzheimer’s Dementia initiative, which was set up to study participants’ brain health over time.

The project spanned 10 countries and tracked participants’ brains from ‘healthy’ to a diagnosis of dementia in some. Participants were included if they were over 50 and dementia-free. 

Experts analysed the results of cognitive tests undertaken by participants, and assessed MRI brain neuroimaging data. 

The team than carried out a statistical analysis comparing data for those with the APOE4 gene to those without.

The study is published in the journal Alzheimer's Research and Therapy. 

This important finding highlights the need to challenge many assumptions about early Alzheimer’s disease and its treatment, especially when considering women’s brain health. An effect on both cognition and brain changes on MRI supports the notion that HRT has tangible benefit. These initial findings need replication, however, in other populations.

Professor Craig RitchieUniversity of Edinburgh

Our results comprehensively show that for women at risk of dementia, HRT use is associated with better memory and larger brain volumes. The benefits were particularly evident when HRT was introduced early – during the transition to menopause, known as perimenopause.

Professor Anne-Marie MinihaneUniversity of East Anglia

Related links

Read the journal paper in Alzheimer's Research and Therapy

Find out more about the work of the Edinburgh Dementia Prevention

[Image credit: Tom Merton via Getty Images]