High blood pressure at any age, regardless of duration, can accelerate cognitive decline

High blood pressure at any age, regardless of duration, can accelerate cognitive decline | Photo credit: iStock Images

Dallas: High blood pressure appears to accelerate a decline in cognitive activity in middle-aged and older adults, according to new research.

The research was published today in Hypertension, a journal of the American Heart Association.

Nearly half of American adults have high blood pressure or hypertension. Having high blood pressure is a risk factor for cognitive decline that includes things like memory, verbal fluency, attention, and concentration. Blood pressure of 120 mmHg – 129 mmHg systolic (the highest number in reading) or higher is considered elevated. Systolic pressure above 130 mmHg, or diastolic pressure (the bottom number) of 80 mmHg or higher is considered hypertension.

“We initially predicted that the negative effects of hypertension on cognitive function would be more critical when hypertension started at a younger age, however our results show similar accelerated cognitive activity decrease whether hypertension started in middle age or in older ages,” said study author Sandhi M Barreto, MD, M.Sc., PhD, professor of medicine at the Federal University of Minas Gerais in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.

“We also found that effectively treating high blood pressure at any age in adulthood could reduce or prevent this acceleration. Collectively the findings suggest that hypertension should be prevented, diagnosed and effectively treated in adults of any age to maintain cognitive function.”

Barreto and colleagues analyzed results from an existing study that included blood pressure and cognitive health information for more than 7,000 adults in Brazil, whose average age was about 59 years at the start of the study. The study participants were followed on average for almost 4 years; testing included analysis of memory, verbal fluency, and executive function, which includes attention, concentration, and other factors associated with thinking and reasoning.

Their analysis found:

-Systole blood pressure between 121 and 139 mmHg or diastole blood pressure between 81 and 89 mmHg without antihypertensive drug use has been associated with accelerated cognitive activity decrease among middle-aged and older individuals.

-The rate of decrease in cognition occurred regardless of duration of hypertension, which means high blood pressure over a period of time, even a short period of time, could affect the rate of cognitive decline of a person. Adults with uncontrolled hypertension tended to experience particularly faster decreases in memory and global cognitive function than adults who controlled hypertension.

“In addition to other proven benefits of blood pressure control, our results highlight the importance of diagnosing and controlling hypertension in patients of any age to prevent or slow cognitive decline,” Barreto said. “Our results also reinforce the need to maintain lower blood pressure levels throughout life, as even prehypertensive levels have been associated with cognitive decline.”

According to Barreto, some of the limitations of the study are the relatively short duration period and that the participants themselves reported the hypertension diagnosis at baseline.

“Although the participants in our study are adults from Brazil, we believe our findings apply to other regions. Previous studies have shown that similar unhealthy behaviors and risk factors, including hypertension, are common in the development of cardiovascular disease in different populations across the globe, “Barreto said.