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A study from the University of California has found that people who develop high blood pressure later in life may find that amongst the risks of heart disease and stroke, there is a startling benefit – a lower risk of dementia.
The research found that those with higher blood pressure readings were less likely to have dementia, after investigating the relationship between the risk of dementia, the age at which it was diagnosed and the blood pressure readings in the over-90s.
Previous studies have shown that developing high blood pressure during middle age and has been proven to increase the risk of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, but with these new research results, the effect appears to be reversed in later life.
High blood pressure that is either undiagnosed or remains uncontrolled after diagnosis can cause problems within the brain by damaging and narrowing the blood vessels that lead up to it. Over time, this raises the risk of a blood vessel becoming blocked or bursting. If a blood vessel cannot carry energy and oxygen to parts of the brain due to a blood vessel becoming blocked or burst, some cells in the brain may be damaged or even die- as this is what keeps them going. This damage can sometimes affect different parts of the brain, such as speech, memory, or thinking. This is called vascular dementia and is primarily caused by high blood pressure.
The study followed 625 pensioners every six months for up to ten years. At enrolment into the study, no participants showed signs of dementia, and had an average age of 93. Participants who developed high blood pressure between the ages of 80 and 89 had a significantly lower risk of developing dementia compared to those with a reading in the normal range. Those who developed the condition in their 90s had an even lower dementia risk.
An associate professor in the University’s department of neurology said: “In our study, high blood pressure is not a risk factor for dementia in the oldest old, but just the opposite. On this basis of this work, we are absolutely not recommending that high blood pressure should not be treated amongst the elderly – what we are saying is that from observing a group of very old people, we now have some evidence that developing high blood pressure at a later age may be helpful in terms of maintaining intact thinking abilities.”