Research has long linked high blood pressure to an increased risk for dementia, finding that many factors affecting cardiovascular health also affect brain health. Now, a new study suggests that higher blood pressure may increase the risk for dementia, even if blood pressure levels are still in the healthy range.
Learn more about this study and the link between brain and heart health.
Elevated Blood Pressure Increases Your Risk for Dementia
A hypertension diagnosis is given with a person’s blood pressure is 140/90 mm Hg or higher. While previous studies have found that hypertension in middle age can increase a person’s risk for dementia, a new study published in the European Heart Journal found that blood pressure does not have to be diagnosed as hypertension to impact brain health.
The international research team examined the association between blood pressure and brain health at ages 50, 60 and 70, finding different patterns of association in over 8,600 people. Study author, Jessica Abell, from the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research in Paris, said, “Previous research has not been able to test the link between raised blood pressure and dementia directly by examining the timing in sufficient detail.” She continues, saying, “In our paper, we were able to examine the association at age 50, 60, and 70, and we found different patterns of association. This will have important implications for policy guidelines, which currently only use the generic term ‘midlife.”
The blood pressures were taken every six years and the team found that individuals with a systolic blood pressure of at least 130 mm Hg at the age of 50 were 45% more likely to develop dementia than people of the same age who had a lower systolic blood pressure.
Individuals in their 60s and later did not see the same increased risk with a higher systolic blood pressure and Abell thinks she knows why.
“Our analysis suggests that the importance of mid-life hypertension on brain health is due to the duration of exposure. So we see an increased risk for people with high blood pressure at age 50, but not 60 or 70, because those with hypertension at age 50 are likely to be ‘exposed’ to this risk for longer.”
How Blood Pressure Impacts Brain Health
The study suggests that people who are not diagnosed and being treated for hypertension are still at an increased risk of dementia. The research team believes that elevated blood pressure, even if it is not diagnosed, can lead to ‘silent strokes’ which cause whiter matter damage and inhibit oxygen to the brain without showing visible symptoms. These strokes are hard to diagnose and identify but can increase the risk of brain damage.
Researchers acknowledge more work needs to be done on the relationship between brain and heart health, but encourage all to take care of cardiovascular health and have routine medical checkups.
“There is plenty of evidence to suggest that maintaining a healthy blood pressure in middle age is important for both your brain and your heart later in life.”
“Anyone who is concerned about their blood pressure levels should consult their [doctor],” Abell urges.
Have you seen a correlation between heart health and an increased risk for dementia? We’d like to hear more about your experiences in the comments below.