New research published in the August 25, 2009, print issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, shows how high blood pressure is linked to memory problems in people over age 45.
The study found that people with high diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number of a blood pressure reading) were more likely to have cognitive impairment, or problems with their memory and thinking skills, than people with normal readings. For every 10-point increase in that bottom number, the odds of a person having cognitive problems was seven percent higher. The results were valid after adjusting for other factors that could affect cognitive abilities, such as age, smoking status, exercise level, education, diabetes or high cholesterol.
This was a very large study and it involved nearly 20,000 people age 45 and older across the country who had participated in a study about stroke, and who had never had a stroke. A total of 1,505 of the participants, or 7.6 percent, had cognitive problems, and 9,844, or 49.6 percent, were taking medication for high blood pressure.
“It’s possible that by preventing or treating high blood pressure, we could potentially prevent cognitive impairment, which can be a precursor to dementia,” said study author Georgios Tsivgoulis, MD, of the University of Alabama at Birmingham and a member of the American Academy of Neurology.
The reason that high blood pressure issue appears to be linked to memory could be that research has shown high diastolic blood pressure leads to weakening of the small arteries in the brain; this weakening of arteries can actually result in the development of brain damage in small, random areas that contain memories.