Hypertension, or high blood pressure, has long been associated with an increased risk of dementia. However, the specific connection between the two has remained unclear. A new meta-study has shed light on this issue by revealing that older adults who continue to take antihypertensive medications have a 26% lower risk of all-cause dementia compared to those with untreated hypertension.
The study, which is one of the largest and most comprehensive of its kind, analyzed data from 17 different investigations involving 34,519 older adults from 15 countries across the globe. The participants, with an average age of 72.5, were followed for an average of 4.3 years. The study found that untreated hypertension was associated with an increased risk of developing dementia.
Dr. Matthew Lennon, the lead author of the study, emphasized the importance of considering the physiological and social factors that may influence the effectiveness of treatment. He noted that previous studies have produced conflicting results regarding the impact of antihypertensive use on dementia risk, and few large-scale studies have focused on older adults and individuals from developing countries.
Dr. Jayne Morgan, a cardiologist and clinical director, highlighted the significance of including data from diverse populations in such studies. She explained that randomized clinical trials, which are considered the gold standard of scientific research, often exclude data from large portions of the global population. Consequently, the effectiveness of treatments in different contexts remains unknown.
One of the most logical forms of dementia associated with hypertension is vascular dementia. This occurs when there are blockages or problems in the small blood vessels of the brain. Hypertension is a known risk factor for atherosclerosis, or artery disease, which can affect the arteries in the brain. This can lead to reduced blood oxygen supply and the accumulation of pathological proteins, such as amyloid beta, contributing to the development of dementia.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that nearly half of U.S. adults have high blood pressure, with many being unaware of their condition. High blood pressure is often referred to as the “silent killer” because it typically does not have obvious symptoms. Dr. Morgan suggested several reasons why individuals with hypertension may remain unaware of their condition, including the growing obesity epidemic, limited access to healthcare, and a lack of awareness.
To address this issue, Dr. Chen, a cardiologist, highlighted the availability of free, public blood pressure machines. These machines can be found in local pharmacies and provide an accessible way for individuals to monitor their blood pressure. The CDC also offers information on how to interpret blood pressure readings from these machines on their website.
In conclusion, the new meta-study provides strong evidence that treating hypertension with antihypertensive medications can significantly reduce the risk of developing dementia in older adults. This finding highlights the importance of managing blood pressure effectively to protect cognitive health. Further research is needed to better understand the nuances of treatment effectiveness across different populations and contexts. Increased awareness and access to blood pressure monitoring can help individuals identify and manage hypertension, reducing the associated risks.