High Blood Pressure Causes Mental Decline
Dec. 15, 1999 (Atlanta) -- French researchers say there may be another good
reason to keep "the silent killer" in check. After studying more than
1,300 elderly people in western France, they conclude high blood pressure has a
long-term negative effect on mental function. The good news, they say, is that
maintaining control of blood pressure with medications appears to considerably
lower the risk of mental decline.
The four-year study compared scores on a mental evaluation test in a group
of elderly people with varying degrees of cardiovascular health. They included
"normotensive" individuals (no high blood pressure), those with
hypertension controlled with medications, and a group with untreated high blood
The researchers found the odds of mental decline correlated directly with
blood pressure status, such that those with untreated high blood pressure were
four times more likely to suffer the problem than those with normal blood
pressure. Taking blood pressure medications seemed to cut the risk in all
situations, but the researchers found patients benefited most when the drugs
were able to keep blood pressures at a normal level.
That's an important point to remember, says Charles DeCarli, MD, director of
the Alzheimer's Disease Center at the University of Kansas in Kansas City, Mo.
"If you have untreated high blood pressure you're much worse off. But with
treatment, it has to be effective." Otherwise, DeCarli says, a false sense
of security takes hold -- and that can lead to a stroke. His recommendation:
have blood pressure checked regularly, even if you are "controlled" on
DeCarli says the study extends what doctors already know about the mental
effects of high blood pressure. "There are three other studies ... all
showing kind of the same thing over a much longer duration," he says
"What's unique here is that the decline occurred in four years."
And it was a substantial decline at that, DeCarli says, with the scores for
those with untreated high blood pressure dropping to levels that put them at
risk for dementia. He says it raises the issue of whether high blood pressure
somehow primes people for the development of Alzheimer's disease. "High
blood pressure is probably another risk factor for late-life dementia,"
DeCarli says. "The importance of this is that we can control blood pressure
much better than any other risk factor for Alzheimer's disease."
Given the controllability of high blood pressure -- and its relation to
dementia -- family members caring for someone elderly may want to consider a
few early signs of mental decline. Audrey Cochran, RN, MS, a specialist in
caring of the elderly in Bakersfield, Calif., says repetition is a key one.
"Repeating the same information in a 20-minute time span," she says --
such as asking a person's name over and over.
Another sign is the use of pronouns as identifiers for names or objects that
are familiar. Cochran says an example would be to use a series of
"he's" and "she's" to describe family members.
But she cautions that it's unfair and inaccurate to paste the
"absent-minded" label on all elderly people. "When you look at
people 85 and older, one-quarter of them have dementia, but three-quarters of
them don't. But we view all older persons as not being able to remember
- Uncontrolled high blood pressure causes mental decline in elderly
- Taking blood pressure medications cuts the risk of mental decline, and is
most effective when blood pressure is maintained at a normal level.
- Mental decline was so substantial in some patients, they were at high risk
for developing dementia, which can be an early symptom of Alzheimer's