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What Is the Link Between Blood Pressure and Dementia?

The link between blood pressure and dementia changes with age. Hypertension in midlife increases the risk of cognitive decline, but older people do better with high blood pressure.
What Is the Link Between Blood Pressure and Dementia?
Male doctor & female patient measuring her blood pressure

When scientists try to figure out who is predisposed to dementia, they often finger hypertension. There appears to be a link between midlife high blood pressure and dementia (Deckers et al, International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, March, 2015; Ashby-Mitchell et al, Alzheimer’s Research & Therapy, Feb. 17, 2017).

Is There a Link Between Blood Pressure and Dementia in Older People?

Any such connection in the elderly is more complicated, however. Some evidence links low rather than high blood pressure to cognitive decline.

A study published in JAMA Internal Medicine in 2015 reported on 172 elderly Italian patients attending memory clinics. People whose systolic blood pressure was below 128 appeared to have greater cognitive impairment.

More recently, a study published in the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia tracked very old members of a California retirement community. Those who developed mild to moderate hypertension in their 80s were 42 percent less likely to experience dementia in their 90s.

Treat High Blood Pressure in the Very Elderly with Care:

Based on these new studies, doctors may want to exercise caution about how aggressively they treat hypertension in their oldest patients. The link between blood pressure and dementia may be more complicated than we previously imagined.

Mossello et al, JAMA Internal Medicine, April, 2015

Corrada et al, Alzheimer’s & Dementia, Feb. 2017

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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