Researchers Just Found a Link Between Blood Pressure and Dementia—Here's What You Need to Know

Consider how this new information can optimize your brain health.

Dementia is one of the scariest conditions associated with aging: According to a recent study from financial services company Edward Jones, 32 percent of retirees say Alzheimer's Disease (the most common form of dementia) is the chronic condition they fear the most. Unfortunately, high blood pressure is also associated with aging, and it can further impact your chances of developing dementia. Research is ongoing when it comes to the link between the two conditions, but recent data suggests that maintaining your blood pressure could actually decrease your chances of developing dementia. Read on to find out what researchers are now advising.

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The connection between hypertension and dementia is nothing new.

woman, holding head while sitting on couch, has dementia
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Doctors and medical professionals are well aware of the link between high blood pressure, or hypertension, during midlife and the later development of dementia (specifically vascular dementia).

According to the Alzheimer's Society, the connection between the two isn't entirely clear, but there are specific ways that high blood pressure can impact the brain itself. Hypertension strains the arteries, which become stiff and narrow over time. When this happens to arteries in the brain, the flow of nutrients and oxygen is disrupted, causing damage to brain cells.

"Most forms of dementia stem from death of brain cells," Nancy Mitchell, registered nurse and contributing writer at Assisted Living, tells Best Life. "So a lack of blood supply due to damaged vessels will lead to increased risks of the disease."

With that in mind, keeping your blood pressure under control is key, and new research suggests that staying consistent can slash your dementia risk.

Fluctuation in blood pressure levels affects dementia risk.

Shot of a doctor checking a senior patient's blood pressure in her office
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Research published in the journal Circulation on Oct. 30 found that people whose systolic blood pressure (the top number) remained consistently under control had a 16 percent decreased risk of dementia. "Under control" was defined as the amount of time in target range (TTR), which is typically a systolic reading of 120 mmHg and a diastolic reading (the bottom number) of 80 or below.

As indicated by its name, the Systolic Blood Pressure Intervention Trial (SPRINT) was specifically focused on systolic blood pressure, and all included participants had hypertension. Patients either received "intensive" treatment of their systolic blood pressure, where the target range was 110 to 130 mmHg, or standard treatment, where the target range was 120 to 140 mmHg.

"TTR, as opposed to absolute measurement of Systolic Blood Pressure (SBP), is a more useful predictor of dementia risk," Sandra Narayanan, MD, vascular neurologist and neurointerventional surgeon at Pacific Neuroscience Institute, tells Best Life. Patients with increased TTR—meaning more time with blood pressure in the ranges outlined above—were the patients with lower dementia risk, highlighting the importance of consistency with blood pressure control.

"The findings suggest that it's not just high blood pressure that raises the risk of dementia, but also blood pressure that swings too high or too low," David Seitz, MD, board-certified physician and medical director of Ascendant Detox, adds. "That's something to keep in mind if your blood pressure tends to fluctuate a lot."

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Thousands of patients were evaluated.

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Data was collected from a total of 8,415 patients. Cognitive status and blood pressure were measured at the start of the trial. Blood pressure was measured once a month for the next three months, with all measurements then used to determine target range.

To determine whether participants developed cognitive decline or probable dementia, they were evaluated two more times during the follow-up period, Medical News Today reported. After a total of five years, researchers found that those who kept SBP in the target range had a decreased dementia risk.

There are several ways to get your blood pressure into that target range—and keep it there.

Man checking blood pressure
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To achieve and maintain that target range, medical professionals recommend that you monitor your blood pressure throughout the day. "This can be done conveniently by simply having individuals check their blood pressure at a different time each day," Rigved Tadwalkar, MD, board-certified cardiologist at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, California, says. "Over the course of a few weeks, several values are then collected from most time periods, and this allows us to establish a trend."

From there, your doctor can determine the proper dosage for medications and track how consistently you stay in your target range. As Narayanan explains, "Consistency is more important than varying blood pressure control."

To be proactive, Narayanan notes that it goes beyond medication, as weight loss and a healthy diet are crucial to keeping your blood pressure on point. Tadwalkar recommends mixing up the type of activities you do to "truly attain total body benefits."

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