Study: Taking aspirin daily does not prolong healthy aging in older adults

CHICAGO — Popping an aspirin every day may be suggested by doctors in patients at risk of suffering a heart attack, but there doesn’t seem to be much reason for healthy older adults to take the drug. A study by researchers at Rush University in Chicago found that low-doses of aspirin daily has no effect on healthy aging among seniors over 70.

That is, taking 100 mg of the drug daily played no role in preventing dementia or physical disabilities in otherwise healthy individuals.

The massive international trial, which began in 2010, zeroed in on the risks and potential benefits of low-dose aspirin for older adults who had no previous cardiovascular events such as heart attacks, mental and physical disabilities, or medical conditions requiring aspirin use. In addition to find that aspirin did not extend what they call “healthy independent living,” they also found the risk of dying from a wide range of causes, such as cancer and heart disease, varied greatly in the trial and will require more analysis in follow-up studies.

“This work is a key milestone in the more than a decade-long engagement in this large-scale clinical trial in the United States and Australia,” says Dr. Raj C. Shah, associate professor of family medicine with the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center in Chicago, in a statement. “The results will have a significant impact on guidelines about aspirin use for prevention and in daily clinical conversations between clinicians and their older, healthy patients regarding whether aspirin should or should not be used for achieving disability-free longevity.”

Dr. Shah and his team recruited 19,114 older adults from the United States and Australia enrolled for the placebo-controlled, double-blind trial.  All participants were at least 70 years old or older, though African-American and Hispanic Americans who were at least 65 could enroll because of their increased risk of dementia and cardiovascular disease. The participants were followed for an average of 4.7 years.

Researchers found that the rate of participants who were randomly assigned to take the low-dose aspirin daily and were still living without any major disability or signs of dementia at the end of the study period was practically the same as those taking a placebo — 90.3 percent versus 90.5 percent, respectively. The number of individuals who did develop dementia was also nearly identical, while those diagnosed with various disabilities and major heart conditions was similar as well.

Interestingly, the risk of death among those taking aspirin was slightly higher, about 5.9 percent, versus 5.2 percent in the placebo group, a number attributed to a higher rate of cancer. But researchers say that could be simply by chance, rather than cause-and-effect.

“The increase in cancer deaths in study participants in the aspirin group was surprising, given prior studies suggesting aspirin use improved cancer outcomes,” says Dr. Leslie Ford, associate director for clinical research, National Cancer Institute Division of Cancer Prevention. “Analysis of all the cancer-related data from the trial is under way and until we have additional data, these findings should be interpreted with caution.”

Researchers say ultimately people should be taking aspirin based on doctors orders, rather than personal hunches.

The study results are part of three papers published in The New England Journal of Medicine.

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