Untreated high blood pressure linked to dementia

If you are on the older side of 60, controlling your blood pressure might be more important than you think.

Aside from stroke, heart disease and kidney disease, there is also a known link between hypertension and dementia. But new research shows that those who take medication to control their hypertension have a significantly reduced risk of dementia.

Research completed by UNSW Sydney’s Centre for Healthy Brain Ageing (CHeBA) indicates a 26 per cent hypertension (high blood pressure) risk reduction for over 60s.

Dr Matt Lennon, lead author on the study, says the research provides answers to critical questions for public health. “This is a valuable addition to the literature as it crystallises a grey area in dementia prevention,” said Dr Lennon, a medical doctor.

The grey area in question surrounds the difference in risk when comparing mid-life hypertension patients with those aged over 60.

“We know that mid-life hypertension increases risk of all types of dementia by around 60 per cent,” says Dr Lennon. And the risk specifically for Alzheimer’s disease rises by 25 per cent.”

Hypertension ‘coal face’

Dr Lennon believes the findings are critical for general practitioners and family physicians. These are the health professionals most commonly at the coal face of blood pressure management, he said.

The findings will have an impact on blood pressure management guidelines, Dr Lennon believes. He suggests it will also change parts of the academic conversation around blood pressure. 

Drilling down to a more detailed analysis of the study’s results uncovered three significant findings.

First, the study showed those over 60 with unmedicated hypertension have a significantly higher risk of dementia compared to medicated hypertension patients. Importantly, an age increase did not significantly alter this relationship. Even people in their 70s and 80s are at lower risk of dementia if hypertension is treated.

Second, the study showed no link between a single late-life measure of blood pressure and significant differences in dementia risk. The study’s authors recommend multiple measurements over time to direct treatment.

Significance for developing countries

Third, the study suggests that there are no significant differences in the use or effect of blood pressure treatments in different sexes or racial groups. This is an important finding because it suggests a universal treatment approach could be effective.

“This is a very promising result as it suggests that optimal care for one group will be similar for others,” says Dr Lennon. “No study previously has been able to assess the differential effects of blood pressure and antihypertensives in developing nations.”

Including studies from countries such as Nigeria and the Central African Republic in the hypertension research has other benefits.

“It is critical that an understanding of chronic illness management in the developing world is published and disseminated,” Dr Lennon says. “It is precisely in these areas where chronic illnesses are least well understood but also where the majority of new dementia cases will occur in the coming decades.”

The full text of the study is available through the JAMA Network.

Do you have hypertension? Were you aware of the link between high blood pressure and dementia?  Let us know via the comments section below.

Also read: How planking could lower your blood pressure

Health disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.

Andrew Gigacz
Andrew Gigaczhttps://www.patreon.com/AndrewGigacz
Andrew has developed knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income and government entitlements, as well as issues affecting older Australians moving into or living in retirement. He's an accomplished writer with a passion for health and human stories.
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