Lowering blood pressure ‘best’ bet for reducing dementia risk

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Dementia is the name for a group of symptoms associated with the progressive deterioration of brain function. Most commonly affecting older people, it can impact memory, how a person thinks and other mental skills. While there is no cure for the devastating condition, there could potentially be ways to prevent it developing.

New research, published in the European Heart Journal, ruled there was a “significant effect” in blood pressure treatment lowering the chances of having dementia among older people.

As part of the work, a team analysed five existing trials that utilised a range of different blood pressure lowering treatments and followed patients until they developed dementia.

Therefore, 28,008 participants with a history of high blood pressure (or hypertension) and an average age of 69 from across 20 countries were studied.

On average they were then followed up around four years later.

One of the study’s authors, Doctor Ruth Peters – associate professor at The University of New South Wales Sydney and program lead for dementia in the George Institute’s Global Brain Health Initiative – said blood pressure treatment could therefore be among the “best bets” for preventing dementia.

In a media release she said: “Our study suggests that using readily available treatments to lower blood pressure is currently one of our ‘best bets’ to tackle this insidious disease.”

She explained: “Most trials were stopped early because of the significant impact of blood pressure lowering on cardiovascular events, which tend to occur earlier than signs of dementia.

“We found there was a significant effect of treatment in lowering the odds of dementia associated with a sustained reduction in blood pressure in this older population.

“Our results imply a broadly linear relationship between blood pressure reduction and lower risk of dementia, regardless of which type of treatment was used.”

Doctor Peters hoped this could help shape future public health measures when tackling dementia and looking at treatment options.

“Our study provides the highest grade of available evidence to show that blood pressure lowering treatment over several years reduces the risk of dementia, and we did not see any evidence of harm,” she added.

“But what we still don’t know is whether additional blood pressure lowering in people who already have it well-controlled or starting treatment earlier in life would reduce the long-term risk of dementia.”

Common signs of dementia are:

  • Memory loss
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Finding it hard to carry out familiar daily tasks, such as getting confused over the correct Change when shopping
  • Struggling to follow a conversation or find the right word
  • Being confused about time and place
  • Mood changes.

There are a number of factors that can raise your risk of developing dementia.

These include:

  • Increasing age
  • A family history of the condition
  • Untreated depression, although depression can also be one of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease
  • Lifestyle factors and conditions associated with cardiovascular disease.

Blood pressure is recorded with two numbers; the higher number – systolic pressure – refers to the force at which your heart pumps blood around your body.

The lower number – diastolic pressure – is the resistance to the blood flow in the blood vessels.

High blood pressure is considered to be 140/90 millimetres of mercury (mmHg) or higher (or 150/90mmHg or higher if you’re over the age of 80).

Ideal blood pressure is usually considered to be between 90/60mmHg and 120/80mmHg.

Things that are known to raise your risk of high blood pressure are:

  • Not eating enough fruit and vegetables
  • Drinking too much alcohol or coffee (or other caffeine-based drinks)
  • Smoking
  • Being aged over 65
  • Having a relative with high blood pressure
  • Being of black African or black Caribbean descent
  • Living in a deprived area.

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