High blood pressure in midlife linked to later decline in memory, thinking skills


Researchers with the long-term Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) Neurocognitive Study followed the health and mental function of nearly 13,500 men and women for more than 20 years. There was a general decline over 20 years in memory and thinking skills (collectively called cognitive function). But high blood pressure in middle age was clearly linked with an increased risk of loss of memory and thinking skills:

•The decline among participants with high blood pressure was 6.5% greater than in those with normal blood pressure.

•Among participants with high blood pressure in middle age, those who were taking medication to control it lost less cognitive ground over time than those with untreated high blood pressure.

“This provides more evidence that hypertension contributes to lost memory and reasoning ability over the long term. It also showed that the longer a person lives with high blood pressure, the more likely he or she is to develop memory loss and to have difficulty thinking. 

High blood pressure and memory

An important strength of this study is its duration. It is the first study to track blood pressure and brain function over 20 years. The ARIC report serves as a reminder to keep an eye on your blood pressure. A healthy blood pressure is under 120/80. Although the guidelines from various expert groups aren’t in complete accord on when to begin treating high blood pressure, how to do it, and what target to aim for, most agree that otherwise healthy people under age 60 with high blood pressure should aim for a goal of under 140/90. That said, individual recommendations should be based on age, medication use, and general state of health. The appropriate goal for you, and the way to reach it, is best decided in a discussion with your doctor.

Preventing blood pressure from creeping into the unhealthy range is even better than treating high blood pressure. These lifestyle strategies are excellent ways to do this:

•Keep your weight in the healthy range

•Eat a heart-healthy diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables

•Watch your salt intake, most of which comes from processed foods

•Exercise daily, or at least five times a week

•Limit the alcohol—no more than one drink a day for women, no more than two a day for men

•Don’t smoke or use other tobacco products

The main take-home lesson from this study and others like it, is this: The longer you live with normal blood pressure, the less likely you are to have memory and reasoning problems when you’re older. 

Source: Harvard Health

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