First-of-its-Kind Study Shows Linkage between Lowering Blood Pressure and Reduced Rate of Mental Decline
Doctors have known for generations that lowering blood pressure helps prevent heart attacks and dramatically reduces the risk of stroke. Now a new study, described by doctors as “a big breakthrough,” has shown that when people with high blood pressure take medication that lowers their readings below current recommendations, they reduce their risk of the mental decline that is often a precursor to Alzheimer’s disease.
Strong Link Between Blood Pressure and Dementia
Several articles, including this one on the MSN website last week, are talking about this study. According to the MSN story, “It’s the first time a single step has been clearly shown to help prevent [this] dreaded condition.” The study involved more than 9,300 people with high blood pressure, a condition that is common to roughly half of adults in the United States, based on new, more stringent health guidelines adopted last year. The MSN article says, “High pressure can damage blood vessels and has long been linked to a higher risk for dementia. But it’s not been known if lowering pressure would reduce that risk or by how much.” This comprehensive federally-funded study was designed to provide that evidence.
While the systolic reading (the “top number”) for those whose blood pressure is considered normal is 120 or under, the new standard set 130 as the threshold for hypertension. Roughly half of the 9,300 study participants, all of whom had readings well above that threshold, received blood pressure medications in sufficient doses to get their top reading below 140. The rest took a different blend of medications that was designed to get that systolic reading to 120 or below. During the study, the systolic reading for the more aggressive group averaged 121, while that of the first group averaged 135. The results were striking. According to MSN, “people treated to a top blood pressure reading of 120 instead of 140 were 19 percent less likely to develop mild cognitive impairment. They also had fewer signs of damage on brain scans, and there was a possible trend toward fewer cases of dementia.”
Focus on Prevention
“We have long known that high blood pressure is bad for your heart. Now we’re also learning it’s bad for your brain,” said James Hendrix, director of global science initiatives at the Alzheimer’s Association, quoted in the MSN article. Worldwide, Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia afflict some 50 million people, including about 6 million in the U.S., and there is no known cure. Current medications, notably Aricept and Namanda, only deal with symptoms of dementia: not only are they marginally effective at best, but they come with disturbing side effects. That’s why the health care industry is so focused on prevention, and if reducing blood pressure can cut the risk, that’s worth celebrating, study authors say.
In trying to accurately diagnose the onset of dementia in its earliest stages, doctors test for a set of symptoms called MCI, or mild cognitive impairment. On average, about half of patients diagnosed with MCI develop dementia within five years. Among the study subjects, the “higher blood pressure group” saw 348 diagnoses of MCI, versus 285 cases in the “lower blood pressure group” – a 19 percent lower risk. Researchers also conducted MRI scans on some 450 study participants and discovered fewer of the brain lesions linked with dementia in the more aggressively-treated group. Alzheimer’s researchers say these findings mirror previous study results and appear to confirm the connection between reduced blood pressure and reduced risk of dementia. “It’s really more important to prevent MCI than dementia in some ways,” said study author Dr. Jeff Williamson. “It’s like preventing high cholesterol rather than a heart attack.”
Aggressive Standard Shows Benefits
The MSN article explains that it was actually this same large-scale study that led in part to doctors adopting the systolic threshold of 130 last year, after it became clear that lower blood pressure reduced the risks of cardiac-related deaths. “Some doctors,” says MSN, “have criticized that [standard] as too aggressive,” but the new results showing benefits to the brain validate the change, and even make a compelling argument for the more aggressive goal of 120 as the systolic target. In the words of study author Dr. Williamson, “The goal of below 130 is extremely important.” As for specific medications, the study did not test for explicit recommendations. Doctors selected prescription drugs from a list of more than a dozen available, 90 percent of which, says the study, were generic, costing a dollar a day or less.
Here at AgingOptions we share this type of information with you so that you will be better informed about the latest in senior-specific medical research. Whether or not you decide to follow the recommendations spelled out in this study is, of course, between you and your physician – but the evidence does sound compelling. Still, our opinion remains that aging patients should seek out a general practice physician who understands the physical and psychological needs of seniors, specifically a geriatrician. Having a trained geriatric professional in charge of y0ur medical team is one of the best ways we know to escape the trap of cookie-cutter, institutionalized medicine.
Whom Do You Trust?
Just as getting good medical advice is essential, so is getting good retirement advice. Everyone wants to retire with peace of mind, knowing that your assets are protected, you won’t be a burden to your loved ones, and you won’t have to face the grim prospect of being forced against your will into a nursing home. Rajiv Nagaich at AgingOptions has the answer for these retirement hopes in the form of a comprehensive retirement plan called a LifePlan. Your personalized LifePlan blends all the key elements of retirement planning together seamlessly – finances, legal affairs, medical protection, housing choices, even family communication. There’s no other planning tool like it.
We invite you to come join Rajiv and find out more, without cost or obligation. Attend a LifePlanning Seminar at a time and location that works for you. Join other retirees and future retirees just like you and get your retirement-related questions answered. For a complete calendar of currently-scheduled seminars, visit our Live Events page and register online or call our office this week. Good information is hard to find – but you’ll get plenty of top-notch professional information at an AgingOptions LifePlanning Seminar. Age on!
(originally reported at www.msn.com)