The latest study is in and shows that higher blood pressure increases your risk of cognitive impairment.
However, when blood pressure was kept under tight control, the study showed that a risk of mild cognitive impairment (known as MCI) dropped by 19%.
This study also showed that maintaining a number of 120 mmHg reduced the risk of probable dementia from any cause by 15%.
Given the connections between heart disease and dementia, these new findings make controlling blood pressure even more important.
This subset study (SPRINT MIND) of the Systolic Blood Pressure Intervention Trial (known as SPRINT) showed that a lower blood pressure number gave non-diabetics a tremendous advantage.
In 2015, researchers published its SPRINT findings of over 9,000 older adults with a systolic blood pressure of 130 or higher. The goal was to drive down blood pressure to 120 instead of the “acceptable” number of 140.
The results were so positive and drastic that the study was concluded early.
Risk of overall death was lowered by 27% and the risk of a cardiovascular event went down by 25%.
The results were enough for the American Heart Association to revise its blood pressure guidelines to 120 mmHg.
While mild cognitive impairment is thought to be a precursor to Alzheimer’s disease, the subset study did not show that lowering blood pressure would stall onset dementia.
While cardiovascular events and kidney failure were by far the best reason to lower blood pressure, the decrease in mild cognitive impairment is statistically significant.
Because there are no treatments to prevent dementia or reduce the risk of lowered cognitive function, researchers are excited about this study.
For the first time, there may be a way to keep people’s minds sharp.
Jeff Williamson, MD of Wake Forest School of Medicine said:
“I’m already doing this in my own patients. And I was a skeptic. At the beginning when we designed the trial, I actually thought that lower blood pressure would be harmful, perhaps, to the brain.”
“So, it’s influenced my practice already, and if people in the age group of this trial who meet the trial entry criteria can lower their blood pressure to the 120s and still feel the same, then I have them do it.”
Williamson said he now recommends intensive BP lowering to his family members, too. “Because this is the only thing, we can offer right now to lower someone’s chance of developing the worst possible life situation that people can face, I think,” he said. “Most of my patients, even more than death, fear becoming demented.”
The cognitive results could also have an impact on adherence to antihypertensive therapy, Williamson added. “I think that this has been in some ways a game changer for many of my patients to say, ‘I really want to take blood pressure control seriously now.’ . . . Now for the first time, in terms of hypertension, we can say what is good for your heart is good for your brain.”
This offers real hope to our aging population.
Between the discovery of senolytics, and the possibility of maintaining full brain function by controlling blood pressure, we are getting to a place where we are not just living longer, but living stronger.