CHICAGO (AP) — Lowering blood pressure more than usually recommended not only helps prevent heart problems, it also cuts the risk of mental decline that often leads to Alzheimer’s disease, a major study finds.
Margaret Graham, 74, has her blood pressure checked while visiting the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, N.C., on Friday, July 13, 2018. She had participated in a multi-year study, published on Wednesday, July 25, 2018, investigating a connection between high blood pressure and the risk of mental decline. “I feel like maybe with this study, some findings may come that will develop new drugs and also new activities, exercise, theories that will help people to maintain an acceptable blood pressure level,”Graham says. (Photo: AP)
It’s the first time a single step has been clearly shown to help prevent a dreaded condition that has had people trying crossword puzzles, diet supplements and a host of other things in hope of keeping their mind sharp.
In the study, people treated to a top blood pressure reading of 120 instead of 140 were 19 percent less likely to develop mild cognitive impairment. They also had fewer signs of damage on brain scans, and there was a possible trend toward fewer cases of dementia.
“This is a big breakthrough,” said Dr. Jeff Williamson of Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in North Carolina. “It’s more important than ever to work with your physician to ensure that you have good blood pressure control.”
He led the study and gave results Wednesday at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Chicago. They’re considered preliminary until published, expected later this year.
Independent experts cheered the news.
“We have long known that high blood pressure is bad for your heart. Now we’re also learning it’s bad for your brain,” said James Hendrix, director of global science initiatives at the Alzheimer’s Association.
THE BRAIN-BLOOD PRESSURE LINK
About 50 million people worldwide have dementia, and Alzheimer’s is the most common type. There is no cure — current medicines such as Aricept and Namenda just ease symptoms — so prevention is key.
Roughly half of adults in the United States have high blood pressure under guidelines adopted last year that define it as a top number of 130 or more, rather than 140. Normal is under 120.
High pressure can damage blood vessels and has long been linked to a higher risk for dementia. But it’s not been known if lowering pressure would reduce that risk or by how much. The federally funded study was designed to test this in the most rigorous way.