Imagine if you could actively stave off dementia, a widespread condition that’s likely affected someone you know. Who might be helped by that possibility?

It’s more than a possibility.

Now, experts are raising awareness that people can take steps to decrease dementia risk. And those steps may be simpler than you think.

Dr. Walter Koroshetz, from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, is taking steps by keeping his blood pressure in check.

Indeed, Koroshetz says high blood pressure is related to developing dementia later in life, reports NPR. Several studies have shown this relationship, but more people need to know that relationship exists.

If people did, perhaps they would make their health a bigger priority.

In one recent study by the Georgia Institute for Global Health, researchers looked at medical records from over 4 million people (1). These patients had been identified without dementia at the start of the study.

Specifically, researchers were looking for any new onsets of vascular dementia and how many of those previously had high blood pressure.

What they found was an enormous increased risk associated with high blood pressure—62 percent for patients aged 30-50. Older people showed a less heightened increase, but the study affirms blood pressure was still a significant factor.

In another study published in Cardiovascular Research, researchers were able to identify early structural damage in the brain using an MRI (2). Patients were assessed beforehand for their level of hypertension.

Researchers explained that the majority of Alzheimer’s and dementia cases are related to changes in blood vessels, reports ScienceDaily. Many people think dementia has more to do with genetic history, but research is showing otherwise.

This study aimed to identify those brain changes early on, rather than waiting until the damage is irreversible. The researchers’ success may spur earlier prevention measures for hypertension patients in the future.

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What is Vascular Dementia?

These and other studies have found this relationship with high blood pressure particularly strong in vascular dementia.

By definition, vascular dementia is caused by inadequate blood flow to the brain, a situation which eventually kills important brain cells.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, a major risk factor for this condition is stroke. However, experts are turning more attention to high blood pressure due to the damage chronic hypertension can cause in various parts of the body.

How to Prevent Vascular Dementia

So far, the research suggests that lowering blood pressure could be an effective prevention for cognitive damage.

Dr. Koroshetz says only half of people who have hypertension actually receive treatment (reported by NPR). The doctor is trying to change that number by raising awareness through a campaign called Mind Your Risks.

So what steps can people take toward prevention? The Alzheimer’s Association suggests reducing any risks that might damage blood vessels.

That means eating a well-rounded diet, maintaining a healthy weight and exercising. In addition, people should avoid smoking and drinking alcohol excessively.

If more people become aware of this prevention, they could stave off a variety of conditions, including dementia. These steps would be well worth the work in the end.   

References:

  1. Connor A. Emdin, Peter M. Rothwell, Gholamreza Salimi-Khorshidi, Amit Kiran, Nathalie Conrad, Thomas Callender, Ziyah Mehta, Sarah T. Pendlebury, Simon G. Anderson, Hamid Mohseni and Mark Woodward, Kazem Rahimi, “Blood Pressure and Risk of Vascular Dementia: Evidence From a Primary Care Registry and a Cohort Study of Transient Ischemic Attack and Stroke,” Stroke 47, no. 6 (2016): 1429-1435.
  2. Lorenzo Carnevale, Valentina D’Angelosante, Alessandro Landolfi, Giovanni Grillea, Giulio Selvetella, Marianna Storto, Giuseppe Lembo and Daniela Carnevale, “Brain MRI fiber-tracking reveals white matter alterations in hypertensive patients without damage at conventional neuroimaging,” Cardiovascular Research (June 2018).