We all know that high blood pressure can put us at risk of heart problems, stroke and vascular dementia, but now a panel of experts have issued a statement explaining the part it plays in our cognition as we age, and suggesting that it may also be a potential risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease.
According to the statement put out by the American Heart Association, people who develop high blood pressure in their middle years may be at risk of developing some kind of cognitive impairment in later life. The statement was written by Dr Jose Biller, a neurologist at Loyola University, and published in the heart association journal Hypertension.
Currently it’s estimated that over 80 million people in the United States suffer from high blood pressure, or to give it its medical term, hypertension, with the brain being one of the organs which is most affected by this condition. Furthermore, chronic high blood pressure is the most significant risk factor for vascular problems within the brain. For people who suffer from high blood pressure in their middle years, (from the age of forty to sixty-four), there’s an association with changes to cognitive function in both middle age and later in life, which include changes to memory, the ability to make decisions and manage time, and how fast the brain is able to process information.
However, how high blood pressure in later life affects cognitive function is less clear, with some research suggesting that it can prove harmful, while other researchers believe that it may actually improve cognition. What is known though, is that through observational studies, it’s been shown that hypertension causes hardening of the arteries and other damage which leads to a reduced flow of blood to the cells within the brain. However, so far, there’s been no conclusive evidence to show that treating high blood pressure can improve cognition.
In the statement, the panel of experts conclude that currently the data on this is not sufficient for them to make any evidence-based recommendations. However, they do suggest that receiving treatment for high blood pressure is recommended to protect vascular health.