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Alzheimer's Disease Health Center

Lowering High Blood Pressure Can Reverse Some Dementia in the Elderly

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In addition to magnetic resonance scans, the patients were also assessed using memory and psychological tests. At study onset the scores on those tests were about "20% to 40% below normal. That means that these were people who were functioning but they were becoming limited. For example, they didn't wander off, but you wouldn't want these patients driving," says Jacobson.

 

Jacobson says that drug doses were increased until the patient reached the blood pressure goal of 130/90. Using this aggressive treatment approach "patients reached the goal by 12 weeks," says Jacobson. All patients had repeat memory and psychological tests at 12 weeks and again at six months.

 

At 12 weeks, both thinking and memory improved by 15% to 40%, and there were similar improvements in gait and other movements, says Jacobson. These improvements were still present at six months, he says.

 

The patients who had the most marked improvements on the memory and psychological tests -- about a third of the patients -- also had a type of brain scan called a PET scan. "PET scans measure brain activity and brain metabolism," says Jacobson. "The scans demonstrated a high level of brain activity in these patients."

 

Marvin Moser, MD, clinical professor of medicine at Yale University School of Medicine, tells WebMD that data from other studies suggest that controlling blood pressure in patients as old as 80 can improve many aspects of life, including cognitive function. He says that although high blood pressure is called "a silent killer, patients often tell us that they don't feel that well when they have high blood pressure. When the pressure comes down, the patient feels better."

 

Moser, who wasn't involved in the study, is an outspoken advocate for the elderly. He says that treating high blood pressure in an 80-year-old reduces the patient's risk of stroke and heart failure, as well as improving cognitive function.

 

Jacobson says that he is planning a much larger study to confirm the results of his small study.

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