Midlife high blood pressure tied to mental decline later

A doctor checks the blood pressure of a patient at a clinic in downtown Los Angeles July 30, 2007. More than 80 percent of high blood pressure disease occurs in the developing world, and mostly among younger adults, researchers said on Thursday in a report that belies the image of hypertension as a disease of harried, overfed rich people. Credit: Reuters

A new study has warned that high blood pressure in middle age increases the risk of impaired brain power in later life.

The researchers said that this condition can even lead to dementia in some cases. The new study found that high blood pressure in midlife can result in a 6.5 per cent drop in scores of memory, concentration and other brain functions after 20 years.

The researchers claimed that the consumption of drugs for hypertension can however decrease this impact on cognitive function.

Dr Rebecca Gottesman, of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, said the study showed a “relatively modest” decline in brainpower due to hypertension.

“Initiating treatment in late life might be too late to prevent this important shift,” said Dr Gottesman. “Our own study supports midlife blood pressure as a more important predictor of – and possibly target for prevention of – late-life cognitive function than is later life blood pressure,” Gottesman added.

For the study, the researchers followed 14,000 people aged 48 to 67 years for two decades on average. They compared brain function for those with hypertension, pre-hypertension and normal blood pressure.

A high blood pressure reading is more than 140/90 millimetres of mercury. The first figure is the systolic pressure and it is the “surge” that occurs with each heart beat. The diastolic reading is the pressure in the “resting” stage between beats.

The findings of the study are published in the journal JAMA Neurology. Dr Gottesman said: “Our results also suggest that medication reduces the decline attributable to hypertension.”

Dr Simon Ridley, the head of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “This large-scale, long-term study adds further weight to an evidence base linking high blood pressure to a risk of cognitive decline. Although this research is not able to establish cause and effect, a large body of research suggests that what is good for the heart is also good for the brain.”

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