Scary News Links a Common Skin Care Condition to Alzheimer's

Rosacea—the redness- and inflammation-based skin condition that affects more than 16 million Americans—has been linked to a higher risk of several other health conditions such as Parkinson's and cardiovascular disease, among others. Unfortunately, this list is now growing, with a recent study that shows rosacea may also be connected to a heightened risk of Alzheimer's and dementia. 

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Research conducted by Dr. Alexander Egeberg from the University of Copenhagen studied the link between rosacea and dementia among Danish citizens. Between 1997 to 2012, researchers followed 82,439 Danish citizens age 18 and above who were diagnosed with rosacea. Their findings: An increased risk of dementia among older patients with rosacea and those diagnosed with the skin condition by hospital dermatologists. 

The patients with rosacea were found to be at least 7 percent more likely to develop dementia and 25 percent more at risk to develop Alzheimer's disease. The study also revealed that women with rosacea were 28 percent more likely to develop Alzheimer's disease—men had a 16 percent risk. Rosacea patients age 60 and above had a 20 percent risk of having Alzheimer's disease.

New York neurologist Mariel B. Deutsch, MD, says this study was well-designed in that it included a large number of patients and accounted for many factors that could have otherwise clouded the association between dementia and rosacea. "A potential shared mechanism of pro-inflammatory mediators being responsible in part for the development of both these diseases is also interesting and warrants further investigation," she adds. "However, the study is observational and should not be misinterpreted as definitive proof of rosacea and Alzheimer's disease being linked." 

New York dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, MD, agrees. "This was a large, high-quality European study," he says. "We know that rosacea is a chronic inflammatory condition in the skin characterized by overactivity of the innate immune system, but perhaps the inflammation goes beyond the skin. There may be an undiscovered common inflammatory pathway that links what develops in the skin in rosacea and in the brain in dementia."

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But why the higher risk for women? "Alzheimer's disease is more common in women, and so is rosacea, so it is not surprising that the association between the two was greater in women in this study," explains Dr. Deutsch.

The bottom line: "Although the study's results are intriguing, it is too preliminary for patients with rosacea to become alarmed that they may develop Alzheimer's disease," says Dr. Deutsch. "It is important for all patients, with or without rosacea, to be evaluated by their doctor if they develop memory problems, because instead of Alzheimer's they could have a reversible cause of memory decline, such as vitamin deficiencies, disordered sleep, medication side effects, or depression. If the patient's impaired memory is due to Alzheimer's, they can be treated with medications that help with symptoms and potentially slow progression of the disease. However, because there is currently no cure, it is not recommended for patients without any symptoms to undergo advanced testing looking for early Alzheimer's disease changes, unless it is in the context of a research trial."