According to the Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter, high blood pressure may also alter our brain circuits.
Two new studies point to a link between high blood pressure and increased risk of dementia. In one eight-year study of 1,403 women age 65 and older, MRI scans revealed that those with hypertension had significantly more “white matter lesions” ??? indicating weakening of the insulation around nerve cells in the brain necessary for communication; The higher the blood pressure, the more serious the damage.
“This is a silent disease in the brain,” commented lead researcher Lewis Kuller, M.D., Ph.D., of the University of Pittsburgh. “It’s evolving over time and it leads to very bad outcomes.”
In the second study, which tracked 983 men and women for more than 15 years, beginning in middle age, uncontrolled high blood pressure was similarly linked to white-matter damage. Higher systolic blood pressure (the top number) was associated with more progressive damage, according to the study led by Rebecca F. Gottesman, M.D., Ph.D., of Johns Hopkins University: The higher participants’ cumulative blood pressure over time, the greater the damage.
The evidence is strong enough that the National Institutes of Health soon will begin enrolling thousands of hypertension sufferers in a major study to see if aggressive treatment ??? pushing blood pressure lower than currently recommended ??? better protects not just their hearts but their brains.
“If you look … for things that we can prevent that lead to cognitive decline in the elderly, hypertension is at the top of the list,” Dr. Walter Koroshetz, deputy director of NIH’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, told The Associated Press.
To prevent high blood pressure, the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute recommends:
Maintaining a healthy weight
30 minutes of moderate-level physical activity on most days of the week
Limited alcohol consumption
Barbara Hanson is director of community resource development for the Southwestern Vermont Council on Aging. For information about senior services, call the Senior Helpline at (800) 642-5119 or 786-5991 or visit http://www.svcoa.org.