Science

Hypertension speeds up the process of cognitive decline: Study

Prashasti Awasthi Mumbai | Updated on December 15, 2020

Round-the-clock blood pressure monitoring should be the recommended way to diagnose true hypertension in the arteries, and to assess the risk of cardiovascular disease.   -  istock

The findings suggest hypertension needs to be prevented, diagnosed, and effectively treated in adults of any age to preserve cognitive function.

New research has found that the condition of high blood pressure tends to accelerate a decline in cognitive performance.

The study, published in the Hypertension, an American Heart Association journal, revealed that around half of American adults have high blood pressure or hypertension.

It added that having high blood pressure is a risk factor for cognitive decline. This includes reductions in memory, verbal fluency, attention, and concentration.

Blood pressure of 120 mmHg - 129 mmHg systolic (the top number in a reading) or higher is considered elevated. Systolic pressure above 130 mmHg, or diastolic pressure (the bottom number) of 80 mmHg or higher is considered hypertension.

“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,” said study author Sandhi M. Barreto, M.D., M.Sc., Ph.D., professor of medicine at the Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.

Barreto added: “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.”

Methodology

For the study, Barreto and colleagues examined findings from current research that included blood pressure and cognitive health information for more than 7,000 adults in Brazil. The average age of the Brazilians was about 59 years old.

The study participants were followed for an average of nearly four years; testing included analysis of memory, verbal fluency, and executive function, which includes attention, concentration, and other factors associated with thinking and reasoning.

Findings

The study found systolic blood pressure between 121 and 139 mmHg or diastolic blood pressure between 81 and 89 mmHg with no antihypertensive medication use was associated with accelerated cognitive performance decline among middle-aged and older individuals.

The speed of decline in cognition happened regardless of hypertension duration, meaning high blood pressure for any length of time, even a short period, might impact a person’s speed of cognitive decline. Adults with uncontrolled hypertension tended to experience notably faster declines in memory and global cognitive function than adults who had controlled hypertension.

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

Published on December 15, 2020

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