Study links fluctuating blood pressure to increased risk of dementia and heart disease

By Our Reporter
Representational Photo by CDC on Unsplash

Fluctuating blood pressure isn’t just a concern for the here and now; it could also signal future problems like dementia and heart disease, according to a new study led by Australian researchers. Conducted by the University of South Australia (UniSA), the study delves into the impact of both short and long-term blood pressure variations on cognitive function and vascular health in older adults.

While it’s widely accepted that high blood pressure is a red flag for dementia, less focus has been given to the role of erratic blood pressure measurements. Lead author Daria Gutteridge, a PhD candidate at UniSA’s Cognitive Ageing and Impairment Neuroscience Laboratory, argues that fluctuating blood pressure numbers can be just as dangerous. “Clinical treatments focus on hypertension, while ignoring the variability of blood pressure,” says Gutteridge. She suggests that fluctuations occurring over different time frames can elevate the risk of dementia as well as impair blood vessel health.

In an effort to understand the mechanisms linking blood pressure fluctuations to dementia, UniSA researchers monitored the blood pressure of 70 healthy older adults aged 60-80 years, all without any signs of dementia or cognitive impairment. Participants also underwent a cognitive test and had their arterial stiffness evaluated using transcranial Doppler sonography and pulse wave analysis.

The findings, published in the journal Cerebral Circulation – Cognition and Behaviour, indicate that higher day-to-day and even hourly blood pressure variations were associated with reduced cognitive performance. Additionally, increased variability in systolic blood pressure (the top number indicating the pressure in arteries during heartbeats) was connected to higher arterial stiffness, a factor linked to heart disease.

“Higher blood pressure variability within a day, as well as across days, was linked with reduced cognitive performance. We also found that higher blood pressure variations within the systolic BP were linked with higher blood vessel stiffness in the arteries,” Gutteridge notes. This suggests that different types of blood pressure variability might be based on different biological mechanisms and that both systolic and diastolic blood pressure variations are vital for cognitive function in older adults.

The study takes an eye-opening approach to the less explored area of blood pressure variability and its long-term implications. As the findings indicate, consistent blood pressure is not merely about controlling hypertension but could also be important in avoiding cognitive impairment and vascular issues. Researchers assert that these findings are critical because the relationship between blood pressure variability and cognitive function was evident in older adults who didn’t exhibit any signs of cognitive impairment. This implies that blood pressure fluctuations could serve as an early clinical marker or even a treatment target for cognitive issues in the future.

In light of the study’s revelations, a more comprehensive approach to treating blood pressure could be necessary. Simply keeping an eye on the general numbers might not be enough; regular monitoring of blood pressure variability might be crucial for older adults aiming to safeguard their cognitive and vascular health. After all, in the arena of blood pressure, consistency might just be key.

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