Does Blood Pressure Affect Memory, Attention, and Thinking?
If your thoughts wander when you need to focus, or if you forget where you put your phone a few times a day, you might be wondering whether your mind is slipping and why. If the important things seem to fall out of your head, it’s likely that blood pressure didn’t even cross your mind as a possible factor.
The truth is, blood pressure directly affects how well your brain functions. Blood delivers nutrients and oxygen to your brain, and your brain burns through a large portion of your body’s resources. So, when blood flow is affected, you feel it.
In this article, we will discuss the complex relationship between blood pressure and brain function, as well as what you can do to maintain healthy levels.
Sudden confusion and memory lapses could be symptoms of stroke or hypertensive emergency. If you are experiencing worrisome symptoms involving brain function– call 999 immediately.
Blood pressure and brain fog
Most people have experienced brain fog at one point or another. Perhaps you felt disengaged with your task at work and had a hard time maintaining focus. Or, you didn’t sleep well and couldn’t think as clearly the next morning.
But, what happens when brain fog becomes a daily occurrence? A lot of factors can contribute to brain fog, but people often overlook abnormal blood pressure as a possible cause.
Your brain accounts for only 2% of your body weight but gets a 20% share of your body’s total oxygen. So, when blood flow is affected, oxygen delivery takes a hit, and you may notice that it’s harder to accomplish even basic day-to-day activities.
If you’re experiencing brain fog, it’s important to assess your blood pressure so that you know what you’re working with. If it’s normal, you can rule it out and look into other possible causes. If it’s too high or too low, you could possibly address your brain fog with blood pressure management while avoiding the other cardiovascular risks that come with high blood pressure. Managing abnormal blood pressure is a win-win situation.
Keep in mind that measuring your blood pressure at the doctor’s office can only tell you what your BP is at one point in time. Fluctuations are typical, so continuous monitoring through a wearable blood pressure monitor can give you a better understanding of what your blood pressure is actually doing throughout the day and night.
High blood pressure and brain function
Several studies point to high blood pressure as a major factor in cognitive decline. Tests that measure cognitive decline vary in methodology, but they generally assess things like reasoning, memory, verbal ability, and problem-solving.
One study involving healthy elderly participants who lived in an assisted living community found an association between elevated blood pressure and impairment in executive function, which is a person’s ability to focus, control their impulses and emotions, think through a task, and remember.
Obesity can be a contributing factor in high blood pressure, and can affect your brain. Researchers found that obesity and high blood pressure contributed to impaired brain function in men, each by themselves but they also had an additive effect when participants were both obese and hypertensive.
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Blood pressure, brain function, and age
You might expect this type of decline in brain function from someone of advanced age, but young people might want to pay attention, too. Researchers found that blood pressure measures in midlife may predict reduced late life cognitive function. Study authors suggest taking steps to manage midlife blood pressure as a strategy to protect against cognitive decline in old age.
Declining brain function isn’t something you notice until it’s in progress, so it’s a good idea to pay attention to the subtle signs early. Start to monitor your blood pressure before you reach old age, so that you can stay strong and sharp throughout your years.
Blood pressure and memory
Johns Hopkins University recently released results of a long-term study evaluating 15,000 participants over 25 years. The researchers found a strong correlation between high blood pressure and memory loss, but those with high blood pressure in midlife had a 6.5% sharper decline in memory and cognition by the time they had reached old age.
However, when people were diagnosed with hypertension in midlife and took steps to control their blood pressure, they fared better on cognitive tests in old age.
The takeaway? It is crucial to test your blood pressure and to address any abnormalities as soon as you learn of them.
Abnormal Blood Pressure May Cause Attention Deficits
There is evidence that abnormal blood pressure may reduce the ability to focus, and one study found that the deficits were more pronounced in women.
A study out of Germany found a correlation between low blood pressure and attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), a condition that affects focus and short-term memory. They suggest that the autonomic nervous system, the nervous system that controls automatic functions like heartbeat, breathing, and blinking, is slower to arouse in ADHD children, which could affect blood supply to the brain.
Of course, more research is needed to confirm the connection, but it may be worth keeping an eye on your blood pressure if you notice any changes in focus or attention span throughout the day.
Visuospatial abilities (perception and hand-eye coordination)
Visuospatial ability is a perception measure that refers to your ability to identify where objects are in space and in relation to each other. Abnormal blood pressure can alter your visuospatial perception, distorting your judgment of where people and objects are.
Why does that matter? Impaired visuospatial skills can lead to difficulties such as:
- Tripping and falling due to inability to judge where obstacles are
- Poor hand-eye coordination
- Distorted depth perception
- Trouble recognizing faces
- Difficulty with everyday tasks like reading
Keeping Your Brain Young
Blood flow to the brain affects how much oxygen and nutrients are available for your brain to use. And just like a delivery truck gets stuck in a traffic jam, if your blood flow is impaired, your brain might not have the supplies it needs to do its job.
Exercise may improve blood flow to the brain. It can also release endorphins, which are feel-good hormones, and help manage stress, both of which help maintain healthy blood pressure levels. So, physical activity is a must.
Keeping an eye on your blood pressure is another way to ensure that your brain has what it needs to carry out crucial functions, day and night. Changes in blood pressure can signal the need for intervention before larger issues arise.
There is a lot of overlap between what contributes to declining cognitive performance and what contributes to high blood pressure. Smoking, drinking excessively, eating a lot of processed food, and not exercising can all affect cognitive performance and blood pressure. So, making adjustments toward living a healthy lifestyle might take care of your brain and your cardiovascular health, all in one swoop.
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.
Basic Neurochemistry: Molecular, Cellular and Medical Aspects, 1999 – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books-NBK20385
Effect of Blood Pressure on Cognitive Functions in Elderly Persons, The Journals of Gerontology, November 2004 – https://doi.org/gerona-59-11-1191
Lower cognitive function in the presence of obesity and hypertension: the Framingham heart study, February 2003 – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12587008
The association between midlife blood pressure levels and late-life cognitive function: The Honolulu-Asia Aging Study, Dec 1995 – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/7500533
Lower blood pressure correlates with poorer performance on visuospatial attention tasks in younger individuals, Oct 2006 – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16701935
The Association between Low Blood Pressure and Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) Observed in Children/Adolescents Does Not Persist into Young Adulthood, Feb 2021 – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33672943
Midlife Hypertension and 20-Year Cognitive Change: The Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Neurocognitive Study, October 2014 – https://jamanetwork.com/journals-jamaneurology-article-1891344