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MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — Do you feel dizzy or lightheaded when you stand up? It might seem like nothing major, but researchers say the condition is called orthostatic hypotension. People who have it suffer a sudden drop in blood pressure when they stand. A new study now warns that having this problem could be a sign you’ll be at risk for dementia later in life.

The study, published in the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, reveals a link between dementia and drops in systolic blood pressure. The same link does not appear with drops in diastolic blood pressure according to the report. Such drops can occur when a person feels dizzy after standing up.

Systolic blood pressure is the top or first number in your blood pressure reading. The American Heart Association says this number reveals how much pressure your blood is applying on your artery walls while the heart beats. A drop of at least 15 mmHg when you stand is a sign you have systolic orthostatic hypotension.

After studying more than 2,000 adults with an average age of 73, researchers find 15 percent have a form of low blood pressure. Nine percent have systolic orthostatic hypotension and six percent have diastolic orthostatic hypotension.

How dizziness when standing up is tied to dementia

These patients were then monitored over the next 12 years to see how many developed memory loss issues. The examinations show 462 people, 22 percent, have gone on to develop dementia. Of these patients, people with systolic orthostatic hypotension are nearly 40 percent more likely to be diagnosed with dementia.

“People’s blood pressure when they move from sitting to standing should be monitored,” says study author Laure Rouch of the University of California, San Francisco in a media release. “It’s possible that controlling these blood pressure drops could be a promising way to help preserve people’s thinking and memory skills as they age.”

Over a quarter of people with systolic orthostatic hypotension, 50 of 192 participants, developed dementia. Just 21 percent of all other subjects in the study have the disease.

Dementia comes in many forms. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of the illness. Connections between brain cells degenerate and die over time, leading to memory loss and confusion.

Vascular dementia can occur after multiple strokes block arteries, causing brain damage. This new study however, does not distinguish between which form of dementia the patients develop.

More research is needed to determine if blood pressure drops directly lead to the onset of either Alzheimer’s or a stroke. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says around five million people over age 65 had dementia as of 2014. That number is expected to raise to 14 million by 2060.

The study appears in the journal Neurology.

About Chris Melore

Chris Melore has been a writer, researcher, editor, and producer in the New York-area since 2006. He won a local Emmy award for his work in sports television in 2011.

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