- 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 Americans.
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 dementia.)
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 pressure 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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