Researchers found that improving vascular health in people aged 50 or older could also have benefits for the brain. According to an exciting new study, patients who underwent intense treatment for hypertension were less likely to develop minor cognitive and memory problems — the kind that often progress into dementia at old age — than patients who received standard care.
The research was part of a broader cardiovascular study called Sprint, which began in 2010 and involved more than 9,000 people with hypertension across 102 sites in the United States. High blood pressure, also called hypertension, is dangerous because it makes the heart work harder to pump blood out to the body. The condition is diagnosed when a person has a systolic blood pressure between 130 and 180 and, if left unchecked, can lead to hardening of the arteries, stroke, heart failure, and other medical problems
The main goal of Sprint was to see whether people who received intensive treatment that lowered their blood pressure to 120 were doing significantly better than those who received standard treatment which lowered their blood pressure to around 140. These participants were also cognitively assessed.
In the three years following the study, those who had blood pressure below 120 were 19% less likely to develop mild cognitive impairment than those who received standard care. Additionally, blood pressure treatments significantly lowered the risk of stroke and death, as reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).
Dementia is the loss of cognitive functioning — thinking, remembering, and reasoning — and behavioral abilities to such an extent that it interferes with a person’s quality of life. One of the most important diseases that cause dementia is Alzheimer’s, which affects 6 million Americans.
There is no cure for Alzheimer’s but since the disease is preceded by mild cognitive impairment, the new findings suggest that keeping blood pressure in optimal parameters might stave off dementia or at least delay it considerably. Researchers might know for sure in future studies that follow patients who have received blood pressure treatment for a longer time.
Until then, patients with blood pressure over 130 shouldn’t hurry to talk to their doctors about lowering it even further. There is still much we need to find out about how results differ by age and the side effects. But, since the results have been so promising, the Alzheimer’s Association announced that it will award more than $800,000 to support a follow-up trial. In 2019, another research team found convincing evidence that gum disease may be gradually causing Alzheimer’s.