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Study: High blood pressure speeds cognitive decline in middle-aged, older adults

Study: High blood pressure speeds cognitive decline in middle-aged, older adults
Elevated blood pressure may speed cognitive decline in older adults, a new study has found. Photo by Gundula Vogel/Pixabay

Dec. 14 (UPI) -- Middle-aged and older adults with elevated blood pressure are at increased risk for more rapid cognitive decline, according to a study published Monday by the journal Hypertension.

Systolic blood pressures -- the first or top number in readings -- between 121 and 139 or diastolic blood pressures -- the second or bottom number -- between 81 and 89 were associated with accelerated declines in cognitive performance, the data showed.

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This was particularly true if middle-aged and older adults with these readings were not taking medications to control blood pressure.

In addition, the speed of decline in cognitive function occurred regardless of how long people had from elevated blood pressure, meaning that having elevated blood pressure for even a short amount of time may increase a person's risk for dementia.

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"Our results show similar accelerated cognitive performance decline whether hypertension started in middle age or at older ages," study co-author Dr. Sandhi M. Barreto said in a press release.

"We also found that effectively treating high blood pressure at any age in adulthood could reduce or prevent this acceleration," said Barreto, professor of medicine at the Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.

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Nearly half of American adults have high blood pressure, which also is called hypertension.

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Earlier research has indicated that having high blood pressure is a risk factor for cognitive decline, which can include problems with memory, verbal fluency, attention and concentration.

Systolic blood pressures above 120 are considered elevated, while systolic pressures above 130 and diastolic pressures greater than 80 are considered hypertension, the researchers said.

For this study, Barreto and her colleagues analyzed findings from an existing study that included blood pressure and cognitive health information for more than 7,000 adults in Brazil.

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The average age of participants was 59 at the beginning of the study, and participants were followed for an average of nearly four years, the researchers said.

Testing included analysis of memory, verbal fluency and executive function, which includes attention, concentration and other factors associated with thinking and reasoning.

Adults with uncontrolled hypertension tended to experience notably faster declines in memory and global cognitive function than adults who had controlled hypertension, the researchers said.

"Collectively, the findings suggest hypertension needs to be prevented, diagnosed and effectively treated in adults of any age to preserve cognitive function," Barreto said.

"Our results also reinforce the need to maintain lower blood pressure levels throughout life, since even pre-hypertension levels were associated with cognitive decline," she said.

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