Cholesterol reducing drugs are some of the most common medications prescribed around the world. They are highly beneficial in reducing heart disease. Now they are gaining new respect as a drug that may delay or prevent the onset of dementia and Alzheimer's disease. VOA's Melinda Smith has more on this latest development.

The numbers are astounding and they are growing. Researchers from the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health estimate that more than 26 million people worldwide are now living with Alzheimer's disease, the most common form of dementia. The disease is expected to quadruple by the year 2050.

A diagnosis in a living patient is subjective, since Alzheimer's is not confirmed until an autopsy is conducted after death. At present there is no cure.

The search for a miracle drug is ongoing. One class of drugs that seems to be generating interest is the statin.

While the beneficial effects of statins on brains of Alzheimer's patients have been studied in the laboratory, the latest involves research on 110 men and women in Seattle, Washington who donated their brain tissue for this project.

Dr. Eric Larson of the Harborview Medical Center in Seattle is a leader of the study.

"Statin drugs have many different effects," he explains. "Those effects can affect blood vessels, they can affect certain proteins that are generated in the brain, and the theory was that if you lower the vascular risk profile, that might lead to the prevention of dementia and Alzheimer's disease."

Dr. Larson and his colleagues think the statins may help inhibit the growth of the protein called tau, as well as a complicated web of plaques and tangles that restrict blood flow inside an Alzheimer victim's brain.

There are several types of statins and each one differs chemically from one another. Pathologist Tom Montine says the next leg of the study will focus on which statin drug is more effective in the brain.

"There are some statins that will cross into the brain, and there are other statins that don't. And if you suspect that they might be contributing a therapeutic effect, by a direct effect on brain, then you would predict that those that cross into brain would be more effective than those that don't," he says.

The University of Washington researchers believe that lifestyle factors also play a crucial role in the delay or prevention of Alzheimer's disease. Exercising the brain and body, they say, may help reduce the risk by as much as 30 to 40 percent.

Meanwhile, the Alzheimer's Foundation of America is also advocating mental agility screening as part of a routine physical exam.

By taking some preventive measures now, patients just might buy time until more is known about the statins and other drugs -- or until a cure is found.

Note: November is Alzheimer's Awareness Month in the U.S.