High Blood Pressure Raises Risk of Cognitive Impairment

Approximately 50 million people in the U.S. suffer from hypertension, and what is most concerning is that nearly 15 million people are undiagnosed. The latest issue of Archives of Neurology has revealed that high blood pressure is associated with an increased risk of mild cognitive impairment-a condition that affects thinking and learning. Nearly 10 of every 1,000 elderly individuals without dementia develop mild cognitive impairment yearly. Of those, 10 percent to 12 percent progress to Alzheimer's disease each year, compared with 1 percent to 2 percent of the general population. During the study, Researchers followed over 900 Medicare recipients age 65 and over without mild cognitive impairment beginning in 1992 through 1994. Participants underwent an initial interview and physical, in addition to tests of cognitive function. They then were examined again every 18 months for an average of 4.7 years.

During the follow-up period, 334 individuals developed mild cognitive impairment. This included 160 cases of mild amnestic decline, which is associated with low scores on memory portions of the cognitive tests, in addition to 174 cases of non-amnestic cognitive decline.

 Hypertension or high blood pressure was found to be associated with an increased risk non-amnestic cognitive impairment, but did not appear to be associated with a change in memory or language abilities. The authors of the study speculate on the mechanisms behind the association. They believe hypertension may cause cognitive impairment through cerebrovascular disease.

Hypertension may also contribute to a blood-brain barrier dysfunction or be a risk factor for subcortical white matter lesions both associated with Alzheimer's disease. The authors conclude by saying, "Preventing and treating hypertension may have an important impact in lowering the risk of cognitive impairment."


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