Blood Pressure and Dementia: The Hidden Connection

People tend to categorize diseases by which of the bodies systems they affect: there are heart diseases, such as such as arrhythmias and coronary artery disease; there are cancers; there are cognitive diseases, such as Alzheimer’s. But the truth is that the body is a giant system, and a disease that seems to fall squarely in one realm may actually impact another. Such is the case with high blood pressure and dementia.

A study just published in the European Heart Journal found patterns of association between elevated blood pressure and dementia at ages 50-70. The study took more than 8000 people, ages 33-55 at the beginning of the study, and tested their blood pressure over the following eighteen years. None of the participants had any sign of dementia at the beginning of the study, but by 2017, nearly 400 participants had developed at least mild dementia. The average age of onset of dementia was 75.

The researchers analyzed the results, and found that the dementia was associated with a higher blood pressure reading — more than 25 years earlier.

To be more precise, those with a systolic blood pressure reading of 130 or more as they approached age 50 had a nearly 50% higher incidence of dementia than those with lower blood pressure. A systolic blood pressure reading of 130 is considered “borderline” high blood pressure, but this study suggests that even this mild elevation in blood pressure poses a significant cognitive risk in later life.

Although the mechanism for this correlation cannot be decisively determined, the researchers believe that even slightly elevated blood pressure might lead to “silent” strokes, which damage the brain but do not cause visible symptoms.

The Alzheimer’s Association is currently funding a two-year clinical trial to see whether lifestyle changes, including reducing blood pressure and increasing exercise, protect against dementia in a similar way that they protect against heart disease, cancer, and other diseases. If so, we will finally have a way to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s, a looming problem, in the coming years.

At Tower Lodge Care Center, in Wall, NJ, we follow health news so that we can offer our residents the best possible care. We offer services tailored specifically to dementia patients, with special activities and therapies designed to enhance cognitive function and promote sociability. Our goal is to maximize each resident’s ability to maintain function and enjoy life.

Tower Lodge Care Center offers long-term care, rehabilitative care, short-term rehab, respite care for those times when family members just need a break, and hospice care.

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