Treating hypertension could slow cognitive decline

Research presented at the American Heart Association’s Hypertension 2019 Scientific Sessions this month suggests having high blood pressure speeds up cognitive decline in middle-aged and older adults—but treating the condition can reverse that possibility.

Presenting study author Shumin Rui, a biostatician at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, and colleagues said their findings are of particular concern because hypertension and cognitive decline are two of the most common conditions associated with aging today, and due to decades of innovation, more older people are living longer.

Rui et al.’s observational study focused on a population of nearly 11,000 adults in China, who were surveyed between 2011 and 2015 as part of the China Health and Retirement Longitudinal Study (CHARLS). CHARLS involved researchers interviewing participants at home about their hypertension, education level and environment. Subjects were also asked to perform simple cognitive tasks, like recalling words in a memory quiz.

The authors said overall cognition scores declined over the four years. People aged 55 and up with high blood pressure—defined in the study as a systolic value of 140 mmHg or higher and a diastolic value of 90 mmHg or higher—exhibited a more rapid rate of cognitive decline than those who didn’t have high blood pressure or were under treatment for the condition.

People treating their hypertension, the team said, saw rates of cognitive decline similar to those who didn’t have high blood pressure at all.

“We think efforts should be made to expand high blood pressure screenings, especially for at-risk populations, because so many people are not aware that they have high blood pressure that should be treated,” Rui said in a statement. “This study is focused on middle-aged and older adults in China, but we believe our results could apply to other populations elsewhere as well. We need to better understand how high blood pressure treatments may protect against cognitive decline and look at how high blood pressure and cognitive decline are occurring together.”