Treating high blood pressure could reduce risk of memory issues, study finds

Study on blood pressure & dementia

A new study finds lowering blood pressure could cut the risk of developing a brain disorder that can lead to Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia. One in three American adults have high blood pressure and only half have it under control.

The lead author of the study, Dr. Jeff Williamson of Wake Forest School of Medicine, called the findings a leap forward.

"For the first time in history we can say, in terms of blood pressure lowering treatment, what is good for your heart is also good for your brain," Williamson said.

The study looked at the effect of more intensive blood pressure control and risks of developing mild cognitive impairment. That's when people develop problems with thinking and planning, but can still do everyday tasks. It can be a gateway to dementia.

Researchers followed more than 9,000 people age 50 or older for around three years and found lowering blood pressure more aggressively — getting the systolic blood pressure number below 120 — led to a 19 percent decrease in mild cognitive impairment compared to a less aggressive treatment with a number of 140. 

About 75 percent of people over 65 have high blood pressure.

One patient, 63-year-old Don Penny, a commercial photographer, has been on medication to treat his high blood pressure and heart disease for about three years. He is serious about keeping those numbers low.

"My blood pressure is at a very manageable one, 120 over 70, over 75. So I'm in a good zone now for having blood pressure," Penny said.

Researchers didn't see the same effect for dementia, saying there were not enough cases in the study. Because of this, the Alzheimer's Association is going to help fund the study for another two years. This gives doctors something tangible to discuss with patients who are concerned about changes in mental function.