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Lowering blood pressure may reduce risk of dementia, maybe Alzheimer’s



Blood pressure reading
Lopez, left, checks the blood pressure of Santos Aguilar
Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013, at the Street Level Health Project in
Oakland, Calif.


  • Among older adults,
    lowering one’s blood pressure
     could decrease the risk
    of mild cognitive impairment and dementia
  • In a study of more than 9,000 adults with an increased
    risk of heart problems, participants who were able to lower
    their blood pressure to 120 mmHg saw a 19% reduction in their
    risk of mild cognitive impairment, on average.
  • Those results could have implications for how we

    treat Alzheimer’s disease
    , which is the most common form of
    dementia and affects more than 5.7 million

By now, you may have heard the adage, “What’s good for your heart
is good for your brain.”

A new study presented at the Alzheimer’s Association
International Conference lends some more evidence to that claim.

The eight-year-long study found that a lower blood pressure
level in older adults was linked to a 19% reduction in cases of
mild cognitive impairment.

The researchers looked at 9,000 older adults who had an increased
risk of heart problems, but didn’t have diabetes or
dementia. Those adults were assigned to get their blood
pressure below a certain threshold: some under 120 mmHg, and
others below the standard 140 mmHg. That reduction in blood
pressure could have happened in a number of ways, from lifestyle

changes like eating or exercise
or by taking medication.

Ultimately, the scientists behind the federally funded “SPRINT”
study found that participants who were able to lower their blood
pressure to 120 mmHg saw their risk of developing mild cognitive
impairment drop by 19% on average compared to the other group.
(Mild cognitive impairment was defined as a measurable decline in
memory and thinking skills that can in some cases progress to

Similarly, participants’ combined risk of developing mild
cognitive impairment and dementia dropped by 15% in the group
with lower blood pressure.

The SPRINT study looked at more than just the link between high
blood pressure and dementia. In fact, earlier results from the
study led to a change in national blood-pressure
guidelines in 2017
; the American Heart Association and
American College of Cardiology
lowered the threshold for what’s considered high blood
from 140 to 130 mmHg.

What lower blood pressure could mean for Alzheimer’s prevention

While the study focused on mild cognitive impairment and
dementia rather than Alzheimer’s, the results hold promise
for finding new ways to tackle that disease as well. This
isn’t the first time that high blood pressure (over 140 mmHg) has
been linked to dementia and Alzheimer’s.

In a paper published
this month in the journal Neurology
, researchers examined
more than 1,200 older adults who had consented to having their
brains autopsied after they died. They found that among those
people, a higher blood pressure later in life was associated
with an increased risk of Alzheimer’s. 

It’s been more than 15 years since the last drug to treat
Alzheimer’s was approved, and in
recent years the field has hit a number of setbacks
Alzheimer’s affects more than 5.7 million Americans, but that
number is expected to balloon to 14 million by 2050. Ideally,
evidence-backed lifestyle changes could be incorporated into
treatment plans to help tackle the disease. 

“The vision of a future where we could do combination therapies
just like the heart does, where you combine lifestyle and eating
recommendations with medication, is actually reasonably in our
future,” Maria Carrillo, chief scientific officer of the
Alzheimer’s Association, told Business Insider. 

Next, the Alzheimer’s Association plans to work on a study that
looks at the combined impact of lowering blood pressure,
incorporating better nutrition, and doing cognitive training on
Alzheimer’s progression. For that study, patients would only be
included if their bodies have
evidence of the proteins associated with Alzheimer’s.

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