The American Heart Association wants us to think about blood pressure—but not for the reasons you may think. In a statement published in the journal Hypertension, AHA experts caution that high blood pressure in middle age may increase the risk of developing vascular dementia later in life.
Vascular dementia involves a lack of blood flow to the brain. This deprives the brain of needed oxygen and nutrients, which in turn can lead to a decline in thinking skills. “Hypertension is the worst thing that could happen to the brain,” said neuroscientist Dr. Constantino Iadecola. “Less blood gets to the brain, because the vessels become thicker and less able to deliver the blood that the brain needs to function.”
After reviewing the medical records of more than 4 million people, the AHA found that people in their 30s and 40s who had hypertension were 62% more likely to suffer from vascular dementia. Those 51 and over were 26 percent more likely. Researchers agree additional (and longer-term) studies are necessary to determine the full impact of blood pressure on healthy brain function.