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A New Study Suggests A Link Between Blood Pressure And Dementia

Normal blood pressure is important not just to avoid dementia, but for good health overall.

One more reason to avoid high blood pressure: A new study suggests a possible link between high blood pressure and dementia.

The study followed about 4,800 Americans for 24 years. The results found two blood pressure patterns associated with increased risk of dementia.

Dr. Carl Horton, a cardiologist with Texas Health Cleburne and Texas Health Physicians Group, said the study gave him some cause for concern. He wonders, for instance, if the study took into account updated blood pressure guidelines introduced in 2017.  But he added the study clearly points to the need to watch your blood pressure.


Study Results: “Those who had high blood pressure in midlife and late life, they had a higher risk of developing dementia compared to other patients and those that had high blood pressure in midlife, as well this low blood pressure and late life. They also had a higher risk of developing dementia.” 

How blood pressure contributes to dementia:  “It’s thought that if your blood pressure is not well-controlled then you could perhaps have subclinical infarcts — kind of a micro or minor stroke — that could affect your cognitive abilities down the road. We know when patients get older they lose weight, sometimes their blood pressure begins to drop. And so what we found in this study was that once the blood pressure dropped significantly that those patients are also at risk of developing dementia as well as motor cognitive impairment.” 

A concern about the study: “One of the things was, did the patients have atrial fibrillation, the irregular heart rhythm that increased the risk for stroke? You know in my own clinical practice, I've seen patients they may have some mild cognitive decline but once they develop atrial fibrillation they tend to get worse.”

About high and low blood pressure: “Definitely high blood pressure is considered the silent killer. So a lot of people, unless they actually get their blood pressure checked or being seen by a physician, they would never know they have it. And the same thing with low blood pressure. If it’s very low, a lot of times people will have more symptoms of dizziness, light headedness. Some patients can actually pass out."

Treating high or low blood pressure: “High blood pressure can be treated as long as you're being seen by a physician on a regular basis and we have certain goals that we shoot for. But once you get older, if your blood pressure begins to drop then usually some medications may actually need to be reduced or discontinued because you don't want to overshoot and have the blood pressure drop too low. When I say too low, meaning systolic less than 90 or diastolic less than 60.”


Tips for lowering your blood pressure, which may reduce your risk of dementia

JAMA Study

10 ways to control high blood pressure without medication

Sam Baker is KERA's senior editor and local host for Morning Edition. The native of Beaumont, Texas, also edits and produces radio commentaries and Vital Signs, a series that's part of the station's Breakthroughs initiative. He also was the longtime host of KERA 13’s Emmy Award-winning public affairs program On the Record. He also won an Emmy in 2008 for KERA’s Sharing the Power: A Voter’s Voice Special, and has earned honors from the Associated Press and the Public Radio News Directors Inc.