High blood pressure speeds up mental decline, but does not fully explain dementia disparities

People with high blood pressure levels face a faster erosion of their ability to think, make decisions and remember information than those with normal blood pressure levels, a new study finds.

The researchers traced high blood pressure’s association with declining brain function over years, in data from six large studies that they pooled and analyzed. They show that blood pressure-related cognitive decline happens at the same pace in people of Hispanic heritage as in non-Hispanic white people.

The team had set out to see if differences in long-term blood pressure control explained why Hispanic people face a 50% higher overall risk of dementia by the end of their life than non-Hispanic white people in the United States.

But the new findings suggest that other factors may play a bigger role in that disparity.

Nevertheless, the new study in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease serves as an important reminder of the key role that controlling blood pressure plays in long-term brain health, says Deborah Levine, M.D., M.P.H., lead author of the study and director of the University of Michigan’s Cognitive Health Services Research Program.

“Our findings suggest that high blood pressure causes faster cognitive decline, and that taking hypertension medication slows the pace of that decline,” says Levine, a professor of internal medicine at the U-M’s academic medical center, Michigan Medicine.

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