Some blood pressure-lowering drugs linked to better memory in old age

DALLAS, Texas — Certain blood pressure-lowering medications appear to have the ability to slow the speed of memory decline in older patients, a new study reveals. Researchers with the American Heart Association say people over the age of 50 taking two classes of blood pressure-lowering pills in particular had better memory recall than those taking other types of medication to treat hypertension.

Previous studies show that high blood pressure is a risk factor for memory decline and dementia in older adults. Estimates find there are over 100 million adults in the United States dealing with the condition.

In one major trial, treating hypertension with blood pressure-lowering medicines reduced the cases of mild cognitive impairment by 19 percent. However, there are several different varieties of these medications.

Angiotensin-converting-enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs), calcium channel blockers, and diuretics are all different classes of blood pressure-lowering medicines. Each class acts in a different way to reduce blood pressure and some cross the blood-brain barrier — thereby impacting cognitive function.

“Research has been mixed on which medicines have the most benefit to cognition,” says study author Dr. Daniel Nation in a media release. “Studies of angiotensin II receptor blockers and angiotensin-converting-enzyme (ACE) inhibitors have suggested these medicines may confer the greatest benefit to long-term cognition, while other studies have shown the benefits of calcium channel blockers and diuretics on reducing dementia risk.”

ACE inhibitors and ARBs preserve memory for years

The associate professor at UC-Irvine adds the analysis is the first to compare the potential impact over time of blood pressure-lowering medicines that do or do not cross the blood-brain barrier. Researchers evaluated these medicines in terms of their effects on several elements including attention, language, verbal memory, learning, and recall.

“Hypertension occurs decades prior to the onset of dementia symptoms, affecting blood flow not only in the body but also to the brain,” Nation explains. “Treating hypertension is likely to have long-term beneficial effects on brain health and cognitive function later.”

The research team gathered information from 14 studies involving more than 12,500 adults ages 50 or older. These included studies conducted in Ireland, the United States, Australia, Canada, Germany. and Japan.

The findings, appearing in the journal Hypertension, reveal that older adults taking blood pressure-lowering medicines crossing the blood-brain barrier display better memory recall for up to three years of follow-up exams. However, such medications also increased a patient’s vascular risk factors as well. These medications include angiotensin-converting-enzyme (ACE) inhibitors and angiotensin II receptor blockers.

On the other hand, adults taking hypertension medications that did not cross the blood-brain barrier displayed better attention skills for up to three years.

“These findings represent the most powerful evidence to-date linking brain-penetrant ACE-inhibitors and angiotensin receptor blockers to better memory,” study co-author Dr. Jean Ho adds. “It suggests that people who are being treated for hypertension may be protected from cognitive decline if they medications that cross the blood-brain barrier.”

SWNS writer Stephen Beech contributed to this report.