Two new findings in the field of primary prevention for dementia and Alzheimers disease have recently been reported by a research group led by Professor Laura Fratiglioni at Karolinska Institutet: the first is that both high and low blood pressure increase the chances of developing dementia. The second is that an active and socially integrated lifestyle protects against dementia.
"These findings are not only of scientific relevance in the contribution they make to our understanding of the aetiology of Alzheimers disease and dementia, they also have important clinical implications," says Professor Fratiglioni. "The proper control of blood pressure is recommended in the elderly with appropriate treatment of hypertension, but it is equally relevant to monitor and avoid low blood pressure levels. Finally, elderly people and public health organisers should all take into account the importance of social integration and physical and mental stimulation for preserving healthy cognitive functioning in the elderly."
High and low blood pressure both increase the risk of dementia Previous studies have shown that high blood pressure in midlife is associated with an increased risk of developing dementia and Alzheimers disease in late life. However, studies investigating the link between dementia and blood pressure in late life have produced conflicting results. In a previous study, Karolinska Institutet researchers suggested that both high and low blood pressure may damage the cognitive abilities of the elderly (Qiu et al, Archives of Neurology 2003). The new study conducted by Dr Chengxuan Qiu and published in Stroke, the Journal of the American Heart Association in 2004, found that a substantial drop in systolic blood pressure (the higher number in a blood pressure reading) predicted the onset of dementia in people with a systolic pressure of less than 160 millimetres of mercury (mm Hg). A drop in this pressure of 15 mm Hg or more was linked to a three-fold increase in the risk of developing Alzheimers disease and dementias. These findings imply that poor blood flow in the brain, resulting from a serious drop in blood pressure, may trigger the dementia process. However, because so few studies have addressed the blood pressure decline-dementia connection, these findings need further verification.
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