In a new study from the University of Melbourne, researchers found people who develop high blood pressure before middle age have smaller brains and a higher risk for dementia than those whose blood pressure falls within the normal range.
They found people diagnosed with high blood pressure between the ages of 35 and 44 were 61% more likely to develop some type of dementia within the next decade than those whose blood pressure was normal.
The results suggest maintaining good blood pressure control early in life can help reduce the risk for dementia later in life.
The team says an active screening program to catch and intensively treat high blood pressure earlier could help.
Nearly half of U.S. adults have high blood pressure, also known as hypertension.
Previous research has linked high blood pressure to dementia, but little is known about whether the age at which it develops has an impact on a person’s dementia risk.
In the study, the team analyzed brain health data – including brain volume size and dementia status – using the UK Biobank.
In one analysis, they looked at brain volume measurements for 11,399 people with high blood pressure diagnosed before age 35; between 35 and 44; or between 45 and 54.
They compared data for people in these groups to the same number of people in matching age groups who did not have high blood pressure.
For every age group, the team found those diagnosed with high blood pressure had less brain volume overall, as well as in certain regions of the brain.
Those diagnosed with high blood pressure before 35 showed the largest reduction in brain volume compared to those with normal blood pressure, even if their blood pressure later returned to normal.
In a separate analysis, the team looked at the link between when people were diagnosed with high blood pressure and whether they developed any form of dementia up to 14 years later.
The earlier a person developed high blood pressure, the higher the risk for developing vascular dementia, a common form of dementia caused by poor blood flow to the brain.
The risk was 69% higher for those diagnosed with high blood pressure between ages 35 and 44 and 45% higher for those diagnosed between ages 45 and 54.
The findings suggest an early age at onset of hypertension is associated with the occurrence of dementia and, more importantly, this association is supported by structural changes in brain volume.
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For more information about high blood pressure prevention and treatment, please see recent papers about a new major cause of high blood pressure and results showing the key to treating high blood pressure.
The study is published in Hypertension. One author of the study is Dr. Mingguang.
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