Dementia: Best evidence yet on how lowering blood pressure cuts risk


Observational studies have demonstrated a strong link between high blood pressure in midlife and an increased risk of dementia and cognitive decline.
However, a recent meta-analysis involving over 17,000 older adults found that those with the lowest dementia risk had high blood pressure.
Randomized controlled trials have meanwhile produced mixed results on the effects of lowering blood pressure on dementia risk.
Further investigation of the link between blood pressure and dementia risk is necessary to develop effective prevention strategies for the condition.
Recently, researchers analyzed five trials that tracked how different blood pressure-lowering treatments influence dementia incidence.
They found that blood pressure-lowering treatments significantly reduced dementia risk.
“The study puts forward an individual participant data analysis of double-blind placebo-controlled trials that all used blinded expert adjudication of dementia according to standardized criteria,” said Dr. Phillip Tully, PhD., registered psychologist and researcher at the University of Adelaide, not involved in the study.
“Consequently, this study constitutes the strongest evidence to date on antihypertensive drugs and dementia risk,” Dr. Tully told Medical News Today.
“The data obtained across multiple countries utilizing various antihypertensive drugs versus placebo suggests that irrespective of the type of antihypertensive drug, blood pressure lowering among individuals with hypertension is associated with lower dementia risk.”
– Dr. Tully
Blood pressure medications and dementia
For the study, the researchers included five randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trials with 28,008 individuals at an average age of 69.1 years from 20 countries. All trials measured blood pressure at baseline, annual intervals, and follow-up.
Data also included incident dementia, death, and stroke alongside baseline characteristics such as body mass index (BMI), smoking status, and education history.
The study followed the participants for an average of 4.3 years and recorded 861 cases of dementia.
In the end, the researchers found that those who took blood pressure medications had a 13% lower risk of dementia.
The researchers noted that these results remained after accounting for factors including age, baseline blood pressure, and stroke history.
The researchers noted that antihypertensive treatments did not affect cognitive decline.
The researchers concluded that blood pressure-lowering treatments in late-mid and later life lower dementia risk.
Treating hypertension to prevent dementia
When asked how lowering blood pressure may prevent dementia, Dr. Emil Tsai, Ph.D., M.A.S., chief scientist and C.E.O. of SyneuRx, and Professor at the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), told MNT:
“Blood pressure measures the force that is applied to arteries as blood is circulated through the body. High blood pressure or hypertension is a result of our blood vessels getting older and losing elasticity, causing the force of blood pushing against the walls of blood vessels to be consistently too high.”
“High blood pressure causes strain on the blood vessels over time, this can cause the walls of arteries to become thicker and stiffer as well as narrower, this is called arteriosclerosis. This narrowing of the arteries can happen in the brain, causing a lack of nutrients and oxygen, which causes damage that prevents the brain from functioning properly,” Dr. Tsai added.
“High blood pressure can also cause a patient to suffer a stroke. A stroke can cause brain cell death that may lead to the development of vascular dementia, the second most common form of dementia after Alzheimer’s.”
– Dr. Tsai