Fluctuating blood pressure readings could hasten cognitive decline later in life, new research shows.
The results of a study published in the American Heart Association’s journal Hypertension this week suggest that higher long-term blood pressure variability is associated with a faster rate of cognitive decline among older adults.
Lead author Bo “Bonnie” Qin, a postdoctoral scholar at the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, tells the American Heart Association:
“Blood pressure variability might signal blood flow instability, which could lead to the damage of the finer vessels of the body with changes in brain structure and function. These blood pressure fluctuations may indicate pathological processes such as inflammation and impaired function in the blood vessels themselves.”
Qin said that doctors, who tend to focus on average blood pressure readings, might want to also look out for high variability between readings. Controlling that variability could be key to preserving cognitive function in older adults, she said.
For the study, researchers analyzed data from a five-year survey of 976 Chinese adults. The participants’ blood pressure variability was determined based on readings taken during visits to health professionals. The participants’ cognitive function was determined by their performance on a series of cognitive quizzes like word-recall exercises and counting backwards.
The researchers’ specific findings include:
- Higher variability in the top number in a blood pressure reading (systolic blood pressure) was associated with a faster decline of cognitive function and verbal memory.
- Higher variability in the bottom number (diastolic blood pressure) was associated with faster decline of cognitive function among adults ages 55 to 64, but not among those ages 65 and older.
The observational study does not prove a direct cause-and-effect relationship between blood pressure variability and declining cognitive function. The American Heart Association notes, however, that the findings add to a growing body of evidence that variation in blood pressure readings could indicate an increased risk for other medical problems.
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