Study Draws Stronger Link Between Blood Pressure and Dementia

Gracewell  |  November 22, 2016
New research highlights that both low and high blood pressure may cause or worsen dementia.

New research reinforces the belief that dementia may be linked to blood pressure changes.

According to findings published by the Public Library of Science, researchers at the Heart Brain Connection Collaborative Research Group concluded that changes in blood pressure can negatively impact brain functioning and possibly lead to or exacerbate dementia. 

Previous studies have linked elevated blood pressure with cognitive performance, but the BBC reported that these findings are among the first to suggest that low or inconsistent levels may also carry negative side-effects on the brain.

The dangers of low blood pressure
The scientists found that postural hypotension, more commonly known as low blood pressure, can be detrimental because it changes the natural flow of oxygen to the brain. Individuals who experiences dizziness when standing or sudden waves of light headedness may be exhibiting signs of low blood pressure. This is usually more common among older adults. The authors cautioned that this may be a very subtle effect that exacerbates dementia risks and for that reason may be underreported or misunderstood.

The underlying theory is that low blood pressure affects circulation, and if this is a chronic problem can cause damage to brain structures that contribute to dementia. One of the researchers, Dr. Arfan Ikram told the BBC that this is especially noteworthy if light headedness is a persistent problem.

 "If people experience frequent episodes of dizziness on standing, particularly as they get older, they should see their GPs for advice." Ikram said.

The dangers of high blood pressure
The organisation Blood Pressure UK cautioned that older adults especially should emphasise cardiovascular health. Along with evidence that suggests hypotension can worsen cognitive function, there is also a strong belief that hypertension - or high blood pressure - can cause similar problems.

Elevated blood pressure can damage or even rupture blood vessels in the brain. Structural damage can directly inform cognitive abilities and can lead to symptoms associated with dementia. In older adults, the body may not be able to compensate for a lack of energy and oxygen and may not rebuild important neural pathways.

How to stay healthy
There are a number of ways to lower your blood pressure. Meeting with a GP is a smart way to learn more about your cardiovascular health and begin to build a plan. Diet and exercise are the main concerns when it comes to a healthy heart. Fatty foods, red meat and processed sugars can all contribute to clogged arteries or poorly oxygenated blood. This in turn can make the heart work harder and elevate blood pressure. Whole foods like grains, fruits and veg have naturally occurring vitamins and minerals that strengthen veins and combat high blood pressure. Exercise, meanwhile, keeps the body strong and wards off extra weight that can constrict blood flow.

Certain habits can also negatively impact heart health, and older adults should be mindful of drinking in excess or smoking. Both of these can undermine a healthy diet and regular exercise. Anyone living with elevated blood pressure should employ all available options to try to achieve a more stable level and avoid health complications.