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Beta-blockers may help decrease bone loss in male patients with dementia, according to UTHealth Houston study

Written By: Jeannette Sanchez | Updated: May 28, 2024
Nahid Rianon, MD, DrPH, senior and corresponding author on the study and professor in the Joan and Stanford Alexander Division of Geriatric and Palliative Medicine with McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston. (Photo by UTHealth Houston)

Nahid Rianon, MD, DrPH, senior and corresponding author on the study and professor in the Joan and Stanford Alexander Division of Geriatric and Palliative Medicine with McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston. (Photo by UTHealth Houston)

Men with dementia who were taking beta-blockers showed a slight decrease in the rate of bone loss compared with men who were not, according to a small observational study led by researchers at UTHealth Houston. 

Women in the study, published in Calcified Tissue International, did not show a change. 

Beta-blockers are commonly used to manage heart and circulatory system problems. They are also sometimes used to treat conditions related to the nervous system. Beta-blockers work by slowing down certain types of cell activity, which can help control blood pressure, heart rate, and more. 

“Based on previous work in animals, beta-blockers, hypothetically, should help prevent bone loss, so we looked at patients who had been diagnosed with dementia and already taking the medication versus those who were not,” said Nahid Rianon, MD, DrPH, senior and corresponding author on the study and professor in the Joan and Stanford Alexander Division of Geriatric and Palliative Medicine with McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston. 

Researchers analyzed data of 535 men and 663 women with a median age of 74 who were followed for 10 years. Among the men, 135 had dementia and 108 were on beta-blockers. Among the women, 149 had dementia and 110 were on beta-blockers. 

Researchers noted that men with dementia who used beta-blockers for nine years had a 0.7% per year lower rate of bone loss compared to those who were not taking beta-blockers. 

“This is the first study to show that we may be able to help slow the rate of bone loss for patients with dementia. We know these patients are at a greater risk of falls and fractures, and if common medicines like beta-blockers (usually prescribed for heart conditions) can help reduce their risk of breaks, we as physicians can choose their medication wisely, knowing it can help them in many different areas,” said Rianon, who holds the Memorial Hermann Chair at McGovern Medical School. 

As people age, their bones become less dense and lose bone tissue, leading to the development of osteoporosis. This is due to a number of factors, including an inactive lifestyle, mineral loss, and hormonal changes like menopause for women, and the gradual decline in sex hormones in men.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 5.8 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias, including 5.6 million aged 65 and older and about 200,000 under age 65.

“Future studies are needed to confirm these findings in a larger population where we can longitudinally monitor bone health in older adults with and without dementia taking beta-blockers for non-bone-related conditions,” Rianon said. “Older adults often suffer from polypharmacy, which can become challenging, specifically in those with dementia. Wise choices of medications like beta-blockers, when appropriate, could help ameliorate osteoporosis while treating a heart condition in those suffering from dementia.”

Additional UTHealth Houston authors included Khiem Khuc, MPH; Jude des Bordes, PhD; Abayomi Ogunwale, MD, MPH; Catherine Ambrose, PhD; and Paul Schulz, MD. Other authors included Maria-Bernadette Madel, PhD, and Florent Elefteriou, PhD, with Baylor College of Medicine, and Ann Schwartz, PhD, MPH, with the University of California, San Francisco.  

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