Kerry Hildreth, MD is a geriatrician who studies the effects of losing the female hormones (such as occurs after the menopause) on cognition in women. She is looking at ways to prevent dementia.
Dr. Hildreth’s research focuses on the relation between cardiovascular risk factors and cognitive impairment/dementia. It is well known that traditional cardiovascular risk factors such as high blood pressure and diabetes increase the risk of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. Women account for two-thirds of individuals with Alzheimer’s disease in the U.S. The female hormone estrogen is important for cardiovascular health; the loss of estrogen with menopause is associated with stiffer, less healthy blood vessels and an increase in cardiovascular risk factors, which may help explain some of the increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease in women.
Estrogen is also important for brain health, and the loss of estrogen has been associated with problems in memory and thinking. My research study is investigating whether the negative effects of the loss of estrogen on memory and thinking in women may be explained by changes in the health of blood vessels, and whether exercise can counteract these effects. To do this, we study the blood vessels (using ultrasound) and brain function (using MRI) in healthy women nearing menopause who are receiving a medication to suppress their estrogen levels, or a placebo. Women receiving the medication are then further assigned to exercise training, or no exercise.
By comparing these three groups, we hope to understand the role of vascular health in mediating the effects of estrogen on brain function. Findings from this research may help guide the development of new approaches to preventing cognitive decline and dementia in women.