Blood pressure and dementia – Alzheimer’s Society comment

Two new studies released today by JAMA highlight the links between blood pressure and the risk of developing dementia.

The first study shows how patterns of high blood pressure in midlife that extend to late life or high blood pressure in midlife followed by low blood pressure later in life was associated with increased risk for dementia compared to having normal blood pressure.

The second shows how intensive blood pressure control among adults with high blood pressure was associated with a smaller increase in brain white matter lesions (a marker of small vessel disease and a risk factor for dementia) compared to standard blood pressure control, although the difference was small.

Dr James Pickett, Head of Research at Alzheimers Society, said:

'While we’ve known for a long time that high blood pressure may be associated with an increased risk of dementia – particularly vascular dementia – this relatively small but thorough study goes beyond what we have seen before, showing that intensively lowering blood pressure well below the limit at which we diagnose hypertension could help maintain brain health. 

'What this study doesn’t show is how many of these individuals went on to develop dementia.

'Researchers have had varied success in showing how best to prevent and treat vascular dementia, which is why current research, supported by Alzheimer’s Society, including the LACI-1 trial, is digging into this.

'Further studies, which include any harms associated with intensive blood pressure treatments are required before national guidelines are changed. 

'The number of people in the UK with dementia is set to rise to one million by 2021 so it’s imperative we understand how best we can take control of our health, including our blood pressure, and reduce our risk of developing dementia.

'What’s good for the heart is good for the head and maintaining a healthy blood pressure is part of this, so turn off the Netflix and get out for a walk in the fresh air.'