high blood pressure
Alzheimer's Disease and other Dementias
High blood pressure / hypertension

Hypertension and Dementia: A Frightening Connection

According to the National Institutes of Health, a growing body of scientific evidence indicates that uncontrolled high blood pressure is not only the leading cause of stroke but may also be linked to cognitive decline and dementia.

As a result, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), one of the institutes of NIH, is launching a public health education campaign called Mind Your Risks. The campaign is designed to raise awareness about how controlling the risk factors for stroke in middle age, particularly high blood pressure, may reduce the risk of cognitive decline later in life.\

NINDS is partnering with Million Hearts, an initiative by the Health and Human Services Department, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services; and also with the Administration for Community Living, and the NIH’s National Institute on Aging (NIA) and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI).

“We hope that this campaign will lead people to think about how they can decrease their chances of developing dementia later in life. The Mind Your Risks campaign will offer some concrete prevention steps. Controlling hypertension is at the top of the list,” said Walter J. Koroshetz, M.D. director of the NINDS.

Here are some of the key materials from the Know Your Risk campaign:

On a global scale, scientists are learning more about cellular changes in the brain that can lead to dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. According to the NINDS, this research may someday lead to new treatments to prevent or slow the most serious forms of dementia. But in the meantime, evidence suggests that vascular dementia — one of the most common dementia diagnoses — may be preventable.

According to the campaign, vascular dementia usually occurs due to the cumulative impact of multiple strokes, including small “silent” strokes that occur unnoticed as we age. High blood pressure is the main culprit. Over time, high blood pressure weakens the arteries, leads to strokes, and may bring on processes in your body that can cause dementia. The campaign recommends being proactive about improving your chances of healthy brain aging. Here are some specifics:

Eat healthy and keep active. Following a healthy eating plan and keeping physically active on a regular basis will significantly lower your risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and other chronic and debilitating health problems.

Quit smoking. Smoking harms nearly every organ in the body, including the heart. Any amount of smoking, even light or occasional smoking, damages the heart and blood vessels.

Lower high cholesterol. Reducing your cholesterol will lower your risk for developing a wide variety of serious health issues, including stroke and heart disease.

Control high blood pressure. Know your blood pressure numbers! If left unchecked, high blood pressure can damage the cells of your arteries’ inner lining and cause a hardening called arteriosclerosis, blocking blood flow to your heart, brain, and kidneys, as well as to your muscles. Studies also find that controlling blood pressure may also reduce risk of dementia.

Manage your diabetes. Having diabetes or pre-diabetes puts you at increased risk for stroke and heart disease. You can lower your risk by keeping your blood glucose (also called blood sugar), blood pressure, and blood cholesterol close to the recommended target numbers provided by your doctor.

 Avoid the use of illicit drugs and heavy consumption of alcohol. Generally, an increase in alcohol consumption leads to an increase in blood pressure. The use of illicit drugs, such as cocaine and methamphetamines, can cause stroke.

Stick to the plan. This is the hard part, but keeping your heart and brain as healthy as you can will lead to better overall health as you age.

Take your medications. Your doctor may recommend taking aspirin or other drugs daily to prevent stroke and heart attack, especially if you have hypertension.

 Start early! Preventing stroke and heart disease is more effective if started in midlife.

Resources

For overall information on the Mind Your Risks campaign, click here. For information from the CDC on hypertension, click here. For more information from NINDS on stroke, click here. For more information from the National Institute on Aging on Alzheimer’s, click here.