High BP in late life may protect against dementia: study

High BP in late life may protect against dementia: study
Onset of high blood pressure later in life, especially at age 80 or older, is associated with lower dementia risk after 90, a new study has found. High blood pressure and other heart health risk factors are generally thought to increase dementia risk. Researchers challenge this idea and add to scientist's understanding of hypertension and dementia risk over a person's life course.

Researchers at the University of California, Irvine in the US followed 559 people for an average of 2.8 years to investigate the relationship between dementia, age of hypertension onset and blood pressure measurements. All participants are from an ongoing, long-term study of people aged 90 and older known as 'The 90+ Study'. At enrolment, participants did not have dementia, were 93 years old on average and 69 per cent female.

They received dementia assessments every six months during the study period. During the follow-up period, 224 (40 per cent) of the participants were diagnosed with dementia. The researchers found that study participants who reported hypertension onset at age 80 to 89 were 42 per cent less likely to develop dementia after age 90 compared to those who reported no history of high blood pressure.

Participants whose hypertension began at age 90 or older were at even lower risk — 63 per cent less likely to develop dementia. These associations were statistically significant and independent of whether participants were taking medications to treat hypertension. "In this first-of-its-kind study, we find that hypertension is not a risk factor for dementia in people aged 90 or over but is actually associated with reduced dementia risk," said Maria Corrada, professor at University of California.

"This relationship had not yet been examined in groups of older people in their 80s or 90s, known as the 'oldest old'," said Corrada. The researchers also measured study participants' blood pressure at enrolment. Those in the hypertensive range at baseline were at lower risk for dementia compared to those with blood pressure in the normal range.

While these results were not statistically significant, the researchers observed that dementia risk declined as hypertension severity increased - a trend consistent with the idea that, in this age group, hypertension may protect the brain from insults that lead to dementia. The researchers suggest several potential reasons for the association between hypertension and dementia risk observed in the study.

These include that blood pressure may need to reach a certain level to maintain adequate blood flow in the brain for normal cognition and that this level may change with age. Another explanation that the researchers note is less likely, but possible, is that blood pressure drops before the onset of dementia as a consequence of brain cell deterioration and thus older people who are not developing dementia will have higher blood pressure. The study was published in the journal Alzheimer's and Dementia.
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