Strong Mind, Strong Body: The Connection Between Alzheimer’s Disease and Blood Pressure

The quest for long-term health and well-being have often focused on the heart and the mind, but not necessarily together. But research now suggests that treating both at once might be worthwhile: when it comes to blood pressure, it turns out that lower is better for the brain as well as the heart. 

As we tip into World Alzheimer’s Month (September), industry experts are raising the flag around significant new research that highlights the connection between higher blood pressure and memory loss. Recent studies have shown that having systolic blood pressure (the top number) over 130 by age 50 raises a person’s odds of getting dementia by about 50 percent, compared to someone without high blood pressure at the same age.

And the new results of a large government-funded study known as SPRINT have demonstrated that there are things we can do, especially regarding cardiovascular disease risk factors, to also reduce our risk of cognitive impairment and dementia.

The SPRINT research, announced earlier this year at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC), show that aggressive treatment of high blood pressure (targeting a systolic blood pressure goal of less than 120 mm Hg) resulted in fewer new cases of mild cognitive impairment (slight but noticeable and measurable decline in cognitive abilities that is not severe enough to interfere with daily life) and dementia.

“This is the first time in history that a randomized clinical trial has shown that we can reduce the occurrence of mild cognitive impairment” by lowering blood pressure, said lead study author Jeff Williamson, MD, a geriatrician at the Wake Forest School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, NC.


New Research

The SPRINT MIND trial, made up of 9,361 hypertensive older adult participants, looked at two different approaches to controlling high blood pressure and how it impacted mild cognitive impairment and dementia. 

In one group of participants, blood pressure was aggressively treated with a goal of a systolic pressure less than 120 mm Hg, while in the other group, blood pressure was treated with a goal of a systolic pressure less than 140 mm Hg.

The Findings

The results were significant: In the group that received intensive blood pressure treatment (120 mm Hg), 19 percent less people developed mild cognitive impairment. When the researchers looked at reduction in risk of mild cognitive impairment and dementia, they found that 15 percent less people developed mild cognitive impairment or dementia (regardless of the underlying cause).

“Our findings make sense in many ways,” said senior author Dr. Juan Saavedra, of Georgetown University Medical Center, in a statement. “Hypertension reduces blood flow throughout the body and brain and is a risk factor of Alzheimer’s disease.”