High blood pressure and memory

Here’s yet another reason to lower the pressure: People 45+ with high diastolic blood pressure (indicated by a high bottom number of the blood pressure reading) are more likely to experience problems with memory and thinking skills, researchers say.

A new study, published in the journal Neurology, adds to previous research linking high blood pressure and memory problems. Past studies have shown that high diastolic blood pressure leads to weakening of small arteries in the brain, which can result in the development of small areas of brain damage.

“It’s possible that by preventing or treating high blood pressure, we could potentially prevent cognitive impairment, which can be a precursor to dementia” study leader Dr. Georgios Tsivgoulis of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, said in a news release.

After controlling for other factors that could affect cognitive abilities — such as age, smoking, exercise, diabetes or high cholesterol — researchers found that for every 10 point increase in the blood pressure reading, the odds of a person having memory or learning problems was seven per cent higher.

The study, which looked at nearly 20,000 people age 45 and older across the US, is thought to be the largest yet to look at the relationship between high blood pressure and cognitive impairment. A total of 1,505 of the participants, or 7.6 per cent, had cognitive problems, and nearly half were taking medication for high blood pressure. None of the participants had ever had a stroke or mini-stroke, which can cause problems with memory.

High blood pressure is defined as a reading equal to or higher than 140/90.

More research is needed to confirm the link between high blood pressure and cognitive impairment, Tsivgoulis said.

Lower the pressure

High blood pressure (hypertension) is one of the leading causes of death in Canada, affecting about one of every five adults. In addition to affecting cognitive decline, hypertension is the number one risk factor for stroke and heart disease, and it can also lead to kidney failure.

Over time high blood pressure can damage blood vessel walls, which can lead to the build-up of fatty plaque and the narrowing of arteries. It also strains and weakens the heart. And very high blood pressure can cause blood vessels in the brain to burst, resulting in a stroke.

Despite the serious consequences, 42 per cent of Canadians with high blood pressure don’t realize they have it because there are no symptoms, according to the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada.

But with proper diagnosis and treatment of high blood pressure, you can cut your risk of stroke by up to 40 per cent and heart attack by as much as 25 per cent. The agency offers these 8 tips:

— Have your blood pressure checked regularly or at least once every two years by a healthcare professional.

— If you have high-normal blood pressure, Canadian guidelines recommend that you have your blood pressure checked at least once a year. (High normal ranges between 130/85 and 139/89.)

— If your doctor has prescribed medication, take it as directed.

— Make healthy lifestyle choices, such as eating a balanced diet, staying physically active and smoke-free. To help lower blood pressure, reduce your salt and alcohol intake.

— Maintain a healthy weight. Even a 10 per cent reduction in weight can dramatically decrease risk of a stroke or heart attack.

— Reduce stress. (See Don’t let stress make you sick.)

— Limit alcohol intake to 1 to 2 drinks per day, to a weekly maximum of nine for women and 14 for men.

— Talk to your doctor about home blood pressure monitoring.

Studies have shown that slow, paced breathing also has a positive effect on lowering blood pressure. (See Take a long, deep breath and lower your blood pressure.)

Sources: The American Academy of Neurology news release; Reuters; Heart and Stroke Foundation.

Photo ©iStockphoto.com/ Nicholas Monu


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