- Researchers say high blood pressure in your 30s and 40s can increase your risk of dementia.
- One reason is high blood pressure can damage heart valves and create a situation where less oxygen is flowing to the brain.
- Experts say the research reemphasizes the importance of people maintaining healthy blood pressure at younger ages.
People with high blood pressure (hypertension) in their 30s and 40s may have a greater risk of dementia later in life.
That’s according to a
The research also suggests people between ages 35 and 44 with high blood pressure have smaller brains.
The findings indicate that taking steps in young adulthood to address high blood pressure might reduce the risk of dementia.
Dr. Mingguang He, the study’s lead author and professor of ophthalmic epidemiology at the University of Melbourne in Australia, said in a
He added that although the link between hypertension, brain health, and dementia later in life is already well established, it wasn’t known how these conditions occurring at an earlier age may affect the association.
Researchers analyzed data from participants in the U.K. Biobank, a large database with anonymous, detailed health information of about a half million volunteers in the United Kingdom.
After comparing MRI scans from thousands of people with and without high blood pressure at different ages, the researchers reported that total brain volume was smaller among those with high blood pressure.
Hypertension diagnosed before age 35 was associated with the largest reductions in brain volume.
Researchers also found the risk of dementia was significantly higher (61 percent) among people diagnosed with high blood pressure between the ages of 35 and 44.
“This study rings yet another alarm, bringing attention to a fact that we should all be waking up to: It’s time to start thinking about dementia prevention across the life span,” said Dr. Scott Kaiser, director of geriatric cognitive health at the Pacific Brain Health Center at Pacific Neuroscience Institute at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California.
“To increase our odds — especially in light of our aging population — of stemming the rising tide of dementia, we have to identify and target modifiable risk factors,” Kaiser told Healthline.
“In fact, experts suggest if we were to widely address a range of well-established risk factors through individual care and public health measures, we might prevent something on the order of one-third of cases of dementia expected in the coming decades,” he said.
Dr. Sandra Petersen, who leads healthcare services for national chain Pegasus Senior Living and created the company’s connections memory care programming, told Healthline that high blood pressure at a younger age harms heart valves by causing them to leak as we get older.
Unmanaged high blood pressure makes the situation even worse.
“This causes a drop in compression in the heart — due to the leaky values — and makes it harder for the heart to pump blood into the brain,” Petersen said.
“This lack of perfusion over time causes a lack of oxygen and nutrients to the brain, resulting in brain cell death and poor perfusion,” she said. “As key parts of the brain are affected from the demise of cells, memory loss ensues.”
Dr. Mahmud Kara, formerly of the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio and the creator of health supplements for heart health at Karamd.com, said the study has “significant implications beyond just establishing a link between dementia and hypertension as previous research has demonstrated.”
“One of the most important benefits of pinning down an age range between 30 and 40 is education,” Kara told Healthline. “With this new information, clinical providers who assess and diagnose high blood pressure can focus on educating patients about the long-term risks, alongside the short-term risks for their health.”
He said the study should also encourage healthcare professionals to recommend preventive measures earlier.
“Instead of ‘stay consistent with your blood pressure medication,’ this would look like eat a healthy diet in your 20s, avoid developing a smoking habit, limiting excessive alcohol use during your college years, and staying physically active during your late teens to late 20s, in order to reduce the risk of developing high blood pressure in the first place,” Kara said.