Blood Pressure and Dementia

Mark Beaumont MD

January 12, 2022

What is the link? 

Research has shown for many years that having a diagnosis of hypertension, also known as high blood pressure, can increase one’s risk for developing dementia. By treating high blood pressure, you can reduce someone’s risk of developing dementia. That is the fascinating finding from a Johns Hopkins analysis of previously gathered data, which found that people who took commonly prescribed blood pressure medications were half as likely to develop dementia as those who didn’t. 

What is blood pressure and what is the definition of high blood pressure?

Blood pressure is one of the five vital signs commonly checked when being evaluated by a healthcare professional. It is a measurement of the force exerted on the inside of your blood vessels when blood is circulating in the body. Your blood pressure is reported as two numbers. The first represents the systolic pressure and the second is the diastolic pressure. A normal blood pressure reading is around 120/80 mmHg. High blood pressure is diagnosed when your blood pressure is consistently above 140/90 mmHg. It is a serious condition that increases the risk of having a heart attack and or stroke. By 2025, it is estimated that 1.56 billion people globally will be diagnosed with high blood pressure.

The known risk factors for high blood pressure include lack of exercise, being overweight or obese, an unhealthy diet that is high in salty food, alcohol consumption that exceeds the recommended maximum, drinking a lot of caffeine, smoking, a family history of high blood pressure, use of steroid medication, kidney disease and being of African or Caribbean descent.

How does high blood pressure contribute to dementia?

High blood pressure is dangerous because it can damage blood vessels including the small fragile ones that carry blood to the brain. High blood pressure also causes a great deal of strain on blood vessels which in turn over time causes them to become thicker and stiffer as well as narrower. This is called arteriosclerosis. If the blood pressure is too high, oxygen rich blood is not delivered effectively to vital organs such as the brain which can lead to death of parts of the brain responsible for thinking and memory. This is called vascular dementia.

Recommendations:

Given these findings, it is strongly recommended for all adults to have regular physical examinations with a PCP which includes getting your blood pressure checked. If a diagnosis of high blood pressure is made, it is strongly recommended to take the prescribed medications according to the schedule specified by the medical provider. Also, through a series of lifestyle changes that include exercising regularly, maintaining a healthy diet that is low in salt, reducing caffeine and alcohol consumption and quitting smoking also helps to lower blood pressure.

Other recommendations include: 

Eat real

This starts with avoiding foods that have been processed. Examples are canned foods that have a high amount of sodium, a preservative added to it in order to prevent it from spoiling quickly. Among the most successful blood-pressure-lowering diets are a Mediterranean diet or DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension). Both diets are high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains , low-fat dairy, poultry, fish and nuts but low in harmful fats, red meat, sweets and sugary drinks. The effects can be quick, with blood pressure reductions in just two weeks.

Shed extra weight

Weight loss of approximately 10 pounds will decrease the systolic blood pressure (the top number) by 4.4 points and diastolic pressure (the bottom number) by 3.6 points. Other studies have found that modest weight loss can prevent hypertension in overweight people even if they don’t reduce the amount of sodium in their diet.

Check blood pressure at home

Monitoring your blood pressure at home can improve blood pressure management more than just seeing your doctor. You can purchase automatic blood pressure cuffs for as little as $35. Many health insurance carriers will provide them with a prescription. Ask your doctor for a recommendation. Many pharmacies and drugstores also offer free blood pressure readings.