Blood Pressure and Dementia: Why Monitoring Your BP Could Save Your Brain

Last reviewed:
29 Apr 2023,
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Blood Pressure and Dementia: Why Monitoring Your BP Could Save Your Brain

Apart from its well-known impact on cardiovascular health, recent research has revealed that blood pressure may also play a significant role in the development of dementia. Dementia is a group of cognitive disorders characterized by a decline in memory, thinking, and reasoning skills severe enough to interfere with daily life.

Understanding the relationship between blood pressure and dementia risk may provide valuable insights into preventive strategies for dementia, which is a growing global health concern. In this article, we will explore the connection between blood pressure and dementia risk, examining the latest research findings and discussing the implications for individuals, caregivers, and healthcare professionals.

How does high blood pressure affect your brain?

High blood pressure can have short-term, acute effects on the brain, as well as long-term effects that progress over time.

High blood pressure can increase the risk of developing blood clots, which can block blood vessels in the brain and cause strokes. Strokes can lead to severe brain damage or even death, depending on the size and location of the affected area in the brain.

Prolonged high blood pressure can also contribute to the development of other brain conditions, such as vascular dementia.

Vascular dementia

Vascular dementia is a form of dementia caused by problems with blood flow to the brain. When blood vessels in the brain become narrowed or blocked, it can lead to reduced blood flow and oxygen supply to brain cells, causing them to die. This damage can progress to the point that it causes cognitive symptoms, such as difficulties with memory, attention, problem-solving, and language skills.

Individuals with vascular dementia may have difficulty remembering recent events or conversations, finding the right words to express themselves, or making decisions. They may also experience changes in mood or behavior, such as depression, irritability, or agitation. In some cases, physical symptoms such as weakness, balance problems, or urinary incontinence may also be present.

The severity and progression of vascular dementia can vary depending on the extent and location of the brain damage. High blood pressure is a risk factor for vascular dementia, along with diabetes, high cholesterol, smoking, and a history of stroke or other cardiovascular diseases.

Additionally, high blood pressure can cause changes in the structure and function of the brain, including the development of white matter lesions, which are areas of damaged nerve fibers. These changes can further contribute to cognitive impairment and increase the risk of developing dementia.

Blood pressure and confusion

Sudden confusion, memory loss, or difficulty speaking or finding words can signal hypertensive emergency or stroke. Call 999 if you are experiencing abrupt onset of cognitive problems.

Maintaining Healthy Blood Pressure to Reduce the Risk of Dementia

Well-established research shows that controlling blood pressure can help to manage risk of dementia and Altzheimer’s disease. High blood pressure is so common that you may be tempted to take a casual approach, but understand that the long-term effects can be detrimental if left untreated. Talk to your doctor about early interventions, and revisit the blood pressure conversation regularly.

Depending on your age, your doctor may have a different opinion on the definition of a healthy blood pressure range. More research is needed, but there are studies that suggest that older adults may have a different target range than younger adults when it comes to managing dementia risk. Your doctor can advise you on what a healthy target range means for you.

Once you figure out where you want to be, you’ll want to keep tabs on your time in target range. Studies show that more time in target range means decreased risk of a whole list of cardiovascular risk factors, including heart attacks, heart failure, strokes, dementia, and more.

If you’re measuring your blood pressure once in a while at the doctor’s office, you can get a sense of whether you’re in your target range at a point in time, in an artificial environment. But to really understand what is happening with your blood pressure in your normal day-to-day life, consider a wearable blood pressure monitor that can measure your time in target range throughout the day and night.

Lifestyle changes to lower blood pressure

Always involve your doctor if your blood pressure is a concern. In the meantime, there are steps you can take to help steer your blood pressure in the right direction.

  • Reduce sodium. Sodium can draw fluid into the veins, increasing pressure on your vascular walls. If you’re eating a lot of processed food and high-sodium beverages, try cooking more meals at home or switching to water and herbal tea to see if that helps.
  • Exercise. Ensure you’re getting adequate movement every day. If you are living a mostly sedentary lifestyle, add a short walk at some point throughout the day and work your way up from there.
  • Reduce caffeine and alcohol. Caffeine and alcohol can both contribute to high blood pressure, especially in excess.
  • Manage stress. Stress is a part of life, but there’s no need to let it take over. Find techniques to manage stress so that you can go through it with minimal impact on your blood pressure.

Read this article for more ways to reduce blood pressure naturally.

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Dementia and hypotension (low blood pressure)

There is some evidence that low blood pressure may be related to the development of dementia in old age.

A lot of the time, blood pressure can drop too low because blood pressure started high, and the doctor prescribed medication to normalize it. The doses that are used are standard doses for all people, so the same treatment may affect some individuals more than others. . Or, the patient made lifestyle changes while taking medication, lowering their BP on their own, and less medication was needed over time.

Or, the patient is dealing with hypotension that developed organically, like orthostatic hypotension (drop in blood pressure when going from lying to standing) or postprandial hypotension (low blood pressure after eating).

Whatever the cause, regular check-ins with your medical professional are essential when you’re being treated for high or low blood pressure.

Final Thoughts

Maintaining optimal blood pressure is crucial for brain health and may play a significant role in reducing the risk of dementia. Both high blood pressure and low blood pressure have been implicated in the development of cognitive decline and dementia, highlighting the importance of regular blood pressure monitoring and appropriate management in older adults. Lifestyle modifications, such as following a healthy diet, staying physically active, managing stress, and adhering to prescribed medications, along with effective management of underlying health conditions, can help in maintaining blood pressure within a healthy range.

Additionally, close collaboration between individuals, caregivers, and healthcare professionals is vital in developing personalized strategies to prevent and manage dementia, taking into account individual health status and risk factors. Continued research in this area is warranted to further elucidate the complex relationship between blood pressure and dementia and guide evidence-based interventions for optimizing brain health in older adults. By understanding the link between blood pressure and dementia, we can take proactive steps towards promoting brain health and reducing the risk of dementia in our communities.

Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and does not contain medical advice, and is not a replacement for medical advice. The information in this article is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Talk to a qualified medical professional before making any changes to your health regimen.

Sources

NHS, Overview: Vascular Dementia, March 2020 – https://www.nhs.uk/conditions-vascular-dementia

Further evidence that controlling high blood pressure can reduce dementia, Alzheimer’s risk, December 2019 – https://www.nia.nih.gov/further-evidence-controlling-high-blood-pressure-can-reduce-dementia-alzheimers-risk

High blood pressure may lower or raise dementia risk among older adults depending on age, February 2022 – https://www.nia.nih.gov/high-blood-pressure-may-lower-or-raise-dementia-risk-among-older-adults-depending-age

Systolic Blood Pressure Time in Target Range and Cardiovascular Outcomes in Patients With Hypertension, March 2021 – https://www.jacc.org/doi-10-1016-jjacc202101014

Low Blood Pressure and Risk of Dementia in the Kungsholmen Project A 6-Year Follow-up Study, February 2003 – https://jamanetwork.com/journals-jamaneurology-article-783717

Medically Reviewed

dr jay shah photo

Renowned cardiologist, physician leader, and angel investor.

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