Having high blood pressure for any length of time can speed up cognitive decline

DALLAS, Texas — Having high blood pressure typically means trouble for a patient’s heart. A new study by researchers with the American Heart Association (AHA) finds blood pressure issues, at any age, can also create danger for a patient’s brain as well. According to their study, even slightly elevated blood pressure for any period of time can lead to faster cognitive decline in adults.

The team in Brazil says hypertension is a risk factor for problems with memory, verbal fluency, attention, and concentration. Health experts consider a systolic blood pressure (the first number) of between 120 mmHg and 129 mmHg to be elevated. Systolic pressure going above 130 mmHg or diastolic pressure (the second number) over 80 mmHg is considered hypertension.

Blood Pressure Chart
(Credit: American Heart Association)

“We initially anticipated 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 performance decline whether hypertension started in middle age or at older ages,” says study author Sandhi M. Barreto, a professor of medicine at the Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, in a media release. “We also found that effectively treating high blood pressure at any age in adulthood could reduce or prevent this acceleration. Collectively, the findings suggest hypertension needs to be prevented, diagnosed and effectively treated in adults of any age to preserve cognitive function.”

The study gathered data on more than 7,000 adults in Brazil with an average age of 59. Researchers looked at both their blood pressure readings and cognitive health for nearly four years. In terms of their mental fitness, study examined the thinking and reasoning skills of each person through tests on their memory, speech quality, and alertness.

Hypertension impacts the mind quickly

The results reveal patients dealing with systolic blood pressure between 121 and 139 mmHg or diastolic blood pressure between 81 and 89 mmHg and not taking medication experience faster declines in their cognitive abilities. This change occurs in both middle-aged and older patients.

Researchers also discovered the speed of this decline has no link to the length of time a patient has hypertension. This means having high blood pressure, even for a short period of time, can impact the speed at which someone’s mental sharpness declines. Adults who don’t control their blood pressure through antihypertensive medication see faster rates of cognitive impairment.

“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 down cognitive decline,” Barreto adds. “Our results also reinforce the need to maintain lower blood pressure levels throughout life, since even prehypertension levels were associated with cognitive decline.”

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

The AHA says nearly half of the adults in the United States have either high blood pressure or hypertension. Left untreated, the condition can significantly increase a patient’s risk for both heart attack and stroke.

The study appears in the American Heart Association journal Hypertension.

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About the Author

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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