Systolic blood pressure — which is the amount of pressure exerted by the heart as it pumps blood — is the top number you hear in a blood pressure reading. In general, research has shown that people benefit from a systolic blood pressure of 120 or less, but older adults might do better with a higher systolic pressure, Healthline.com reports. However, this new study contends that lower systolic pressure is best for seniors.
"Lower blood pressure levels are safe and probably better in treating hypertensive older adults," said lead researcher Ihab Hajjar, an associate professor of medicine at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta. The study collected data on nearly 1,700 adults ages 70 to 79 over a 10-year period, and found that participants whose systolic blood pressure was 150 or higher were more likely to have a decline in mental abilities.
After participants took tests of mental ability, researchers noted that the higher the systolic number, the more test scores declined. This was particularly true among African American participants.
"The negative health effects of higher blood pressure are more prevalent in blacks, especially related to kidney disease, stroke and cardiovascular health," Hajjar said. "Therefore, it is conceivable that lowering blood pressure in this population would have a far greater impact than other groups for the cognitive effects as well."
The study is published in the journal JAMA Neurology. It is important to note that this is an observational study and does not prove that having lower blood pressure at an older age slows cognitive decline, Rebecca Gottesman, a professor of neurology and epidemiology at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, told Healthline.