High blood pressure may be fueling mental decline in older adults

Managing high blood pressure to keep it within the normal range may be a vital part of preventing cognitive decline starting in middle age. The finding comes from the American Heart Association, which reports that high blood pressure may speed up the rate of mental decline in adults who are middle-aged or older. The preliminary finding joins past research that associates high blood pressure with an increased risk of developing Alzheimer's disease.

The warning was presented at the American Heart Association's Hypertension 2019 Scientific Sessions late last week. The finding is concerning due to the widespread presence of high blood pressure around the world and the rise in dementia cases.

Cognitive decline may result from high blood pressure due to the effects it has on blood vessels in the brain. These changes may cause a decline in one's ability to think, as well as memory and language skills, at least based on data from almost 11,000 adults collected between 2011 and 2015.

In this case, high blood pressure was considered to be a systolic (first number) blood pressure of at least 140 mmHg and diastolic (last number) blood pressure of 90 mmHg or higher. However, the AHA points out that it considers any blood pressure over 130/80 mmHg to be high.

The study found that in adults who were ages 55 and older, the presence of high blood pressure was associated with faster rates of mental decline in contrast to adults who either didn't have high blood pressure or who were receiving treatment to manage it. Individuals being treated for hypertension had similar rates of cognitive decline as adults who didn't have high blood pressure.