Scientists in America have found a link between having high blood pressure in midlife and going on to develop dementia 20 years later.
This is because the impact of hypertension (the medical term for high blood pressure) can lead to a 6.5% drop in brain function, concentration and memory.
These findings were reached after scientists spent two decades monitoring 14,000 people aged 48-67 years – comparing brain function in those with hypertension, pre-hypertension and normal blood pressure.
Participants had their blood pressure checked five times over the 20-year period and were also given mental tests.
Along with the discovery of a 6.5% decline in brainpower among volunteers with hypertension, scientists also discovered that those who took medication to combat their hypertension experienced less cognitive decline than those left untreated.
Currently in the UK more than six million people are prescribed drugs to control their blood pressure, and extensive research has shown that medication can have similar effects on the brain as it does the heart.
Despite this promising link between medication and combating the impact of hypertension on cognitive function, Dr Rebecca Gottesman, of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, says medication needs to be taken as early as possible to ensure results.
‘Initiating treatment in late life might be too late to prevent this important shift,’ she said.
‘Our own study supports midlife blood pressure as a more important predictor of – and possibly target for prevention of – late-life cognitive function than is later life blood pressure.’
Dementia affects around 80,000 people in Britain – a figure that continues to rise – so this study is an important development in controlling some of the risk factors that can contribute to the disease.
Dr Simon Ridley, the head of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, recognises this:
‘With an ageing population the number of people with dementia is set to grow, so investment in research to find preventions is crucial. In the meantime, controlling blood pressure is one way to lower the risk of dementia, along with eating a healthy diet, doing regular exercise, not smoking and keeping your weight in check.’