AARP Eye Center
You're probably aware that high blood pressure can increase your risk of developing heart disease and stroke. Researchers are now zeroing in on how it also ups your chances of getting dementia and its common predecessor, mild cognitive impairment (MCI). While these links have been recognized for a while, few long-term studies have examined the relationship between hypertension at midlife or later with the subsequent risks of cognitive decline and dementia — until now.
In a study published this month in JAMA, researchers tracked the blood pressure patterns of more than 4,700 people for 24 years, from mid- to late life, to see if they were associated with dementia risk. It turns out that those who had hypertension at midlife (ages 44 to 66) and later in life (ages 66 to 90) had a 49 percent increased risk of developing dementia, compared to those whose blood pressure stayed in the normal range.
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Experts say that's a sizable increase coming from one specific, and easily measured, factor. “These data suggest that controlling blood pressure throughout life has a greater impact on lowering dementia risk than such risk-reduction behaviors as engaging in regular physical exercise or consuming a healthy diet,” says Gary Small, M.D., director of the UCLA Longevity Center.
But researchers saw an even bigger risk for both dementia and MCI in people who had high blood pressure in midlife, followed by low blood pressure at later ages.
Specifically, those who had hypertension (defined as a reading of 140/90 or higher) at midlife, followed by hypotension (90/60 or lower) later in life, had a 65 percent increased risk of developing MCI and a 62 percent higher risk of developing dementia.
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