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High Blood Pressure and Dementia: A Closer Look at the Link

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Hypertension—commonly known as high blood pressure—is a risk factor for both Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia. In fact, in one study, people with hypertension were more than twice as likely to develop vascular dementia as those with normal blood pressure. High blood pressure is also likely to increase the risk of progressing from mild cognitive impairment to Alzheimer’s disease.

In a 2011 study, researchers found that people who had mild cognitive impairment plus risk factors such as high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol were twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease as those who didn’t have risk factors. Fortunately, those who were being treated for their condition were 39 percent less likely to develop Alzheimer’s as those who weren’t.

Increases in blood pressure are linked to memory problems. In a recent study of nearly 20,000 people over age 45, those with high diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number of a reading, which would be equal to or greater than 90) were more likely to have memory problems than those with normal blood pressure readings. Every 10-point increase in blood pressure raised the odds of having a memory problem by 7 percent. High diastolic blood pressure may cause small arteries in the brain to weaken, which can result in areas of brain damage.

The Framingham Heart Study showed that the average blood pressure of a person in his or her 40s was related to his or her performance on neuropsychological testing two decades later. Researchers found that an increase of 40 mm Hg of blood pressure amounts to a decade of aging.

Research has also linked elevated blood pressure with some of the brain abnormalities seen in Alzheimer’s, such as beta-amyloid plaques, neurofibrillary tangles and shrinkage of the hippocampus.

In a large ongoing study called the Cache County Study, researchers found that the overall risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease was 36 percent lower among elderly people who had used any type of blood pressure medication. For those who had taken a diuretic for their high blood pressure, the risk reduction was 43 percent; Alzheimer’s risk plummeted 74 percent for people who had used a potassium-sparing diuretic. Even in the absence of dementia, people with hypertension tend to perform worse on cognitive tests.

Current national guidelines consider a blood pressure of 120/80 mm Hg to be normal for most adults. If necessary, blood pressure can be lowered with medication and various lifestyle modifications, including getting regular exercise, decreasing salt intake, not smoking, losing weight if overweight, drinking alcohol only in moderation and following a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products, and low in saturated fat and dietary cholesterol. 

 

Posted in Memory on May 9, 2016


Medical Disclaimer: This information is not intended to substitute for the advice of a physician. Click here for additional information: Health After 50 Disclaimer


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