High blood pressure in young adulthood linked to cognitive decline in middle age

In a new study, researchers found that people who experienced relatively high blood pressure during young adulthood also experienced strong declines in cognitive function and gait in midlife (approximately 56 years old).

The research was conducted by a team at Northwestern University and Tel Aviv University.

High blood pressure, or hypertension, affects everything from your arteries to your kidneys, from eyesight to sexual function.

Among older adults, high blood pressure is also linked to cognitive decline as a result of interrupted blood flow to the brain, as well as strokes, heart attacks, and impaired mobility.

For the study, the researchers assessed the blood pressure, gait and cognition of 191 participants from a community-based cohort of young individuals followed over 30 years.

They found that the deleterious effects of elevated blood pressure on brain structure and function begin in early adulthood.

Higher cumulative blood pressure was linked to slower walking speed, smaller step length, and higher gait variability.

Higher cumulative blood pressure was also linked to lower cognitive performance in the executive, memory and global domains.

This demonstrates the need for preventive measures of high blood pressure even at this early age.

Previous research has shown that poor gait and cognitive function among older adults are associated with and predict multiple adverse health outcomes like cognitive decline, dementia, falls and death.

This study shows that the time to treat high blood pressure and to minimize future changes in gait and cognition is much earlier—decades earlier—than previously thought.

In addition, the study suggests that gait impairment may be an earlier hallmark of hypertensive brain injury than cognitive deficits.

One author of the study is Prof. Farzaneh A. Sorond.

The study is published in Circulation.

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