A new finding published in the European Heart Journal has linked raised blood pressure in midlife to an increased risk of dementia later in life.
The recent findings from the long-running Whitehall II study of over 10,000 civil servants has found 50-year-olds who had blood pressure that was higher than normal have a higher chance of developing dementia in later life.
According to the research, this increased risk was seen even when those who were used in the study did not have other heart or blood vessel-related problems.
Study first author, Dr Jessica Abell, a research associate in dementia and epidemiology at University College London (UCL), UK, said: “Previous research has not been able to test the link between raised blood pressure and dementia directly by examining the timing in sufficient detail.
“In our paper we were able to examine the association at age 50, 60 and 70, and we found different patterns of association. This will have important implications for policy guidelines, which currently only use the generic term ‘midlife’.”
Among the 8,639 participants analysed for the study, 32.5% of whom were women, 385 developed dementia by 2017. Those who had a systolic blood pressure of 130 mmHg or more at the age of 50 had a 45% greater risk of developing dementia than those with a lower systolic blood pressure at the same age. This association was not seen at the ages of 60 and 70, and diastolic blood pressure was not linked to dementia.
The link between high blood pressure and dementia was also seen in people who had no heart or blood vessel-related conditions during the follow-up period; they had an increased risk of 47% compared to people with systolic blood pressure lower than 130 mmHg.
Professor Archana Singh-Manoux, research professor at INSERM and honorary professor at UCL, who led the research, said: “Our work confirms the detrimental effects of midlife hypertension for risk of dementia, as suggested by previous research. It also suggests that at age 50, the risk of dementia may be increased in people who have raised levels of systolic blood pressure below the threshold commonly used to treat hypertension.
“Our analysis suggests that the importance of mid-life hypertension on brain health is due to the duration of exposure. So we see an increased risk for people with raised blood pressure at age 50, but not 60 or 70, because those with hypertension at age 50 are likely to be ‘exposed’ to this risk for longer.”
YOU MAY READ ALSO: Research: Alcohol a major cause of dementia
However, Dr Abell said concerning the findings: “It is important to emphasise that this is observational, population-level research and so these findings do not translate directly into implications for individual patients. Furthermore, there is considerable discussion on the optimal threshold for the diagnosis of hypertension. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that maintaining a healthy blood pressure in middle age is important for both your heart and your brain later in life. Anyone who is concerned about their blood pressure levels should consult their GP.”