A recent study conducted by researchers in Australia has revealed a concerning connection between fluctuating blood pressure and an increased risk of dementia and vascular problems among older individuals.
This study, led by scientists from the University of South Australia (UniSA), sheds light on the importance of understanding how variations in blood pressure, both within a single day and over extended periods, can impact cognitive health and cardiovascular well-being.
The Impact of Blood Pressure Fluctuations
Blood pressure, often abbreviated as BP, is a crucial health indicator that measures the force exerted by blood against the walls of arteries as the heart pumps it throughout the body.
High blood pressure has long been recognized as a risk factor for dementia, but this new research underscores the significance of blood pressure fluctuations, which have been relatively overlooked in clinical practice.
Lead author Daria Gutteridge, a Ph.D. candidate at UniSA’s Cognitive Aging and Impairment Neuroscience Laboratory (CAIN), points out that while medical treatments frequently target high blood pressure, they tend to disregard the variability in blood pressure levels.
“It’s well known that high blood pressure is a risk factor for dementia, but little attention is paid to fluctuating blood pressure,” says Gutteridge.
Understanding Blood Pressure Variability
Blood pressure doesn’t remain constant; it can change throughout the day, week, or even longer periods.
This study suggests that these fluctuations may play a critical role in the risk of developing dementia and the health of blood vessels.
To investigate the mechanisms underlying the link between blood pressure fluctuations and dementia, UniSA researchers recruited 70 healthy older adults aged 60–80 years who showed no signs of dementia or cognitive impairment.
The study involved monitoring participants’ blood pressure, conducting cognitive tests, and assessing arterial stiffness in the brain and arteries using specialized techniques like transcranial doppler sonography and pulse wave analysis.
The study unveiled several noteworthy findings:
Blood Pressure Variability and Cognitive Performance: Higher variability in blood pressure levels, both within a single day and across several days, was associated with reduced cognitive performance among the participants.
This suggests that consistent fluctuations in blood pressure may have a negative impact on cognitive functioning in older adults.
Systolic Blood Pressure and Arterial Stiffness: The study also highlighted that higher variations in systolic blood pressure, the upper number when measuring blood pressure, were linked to increased stiffness in the arteries.
This arterial stiffness is a known risk factor for heart disease.
Implications for Clinical Practice: Importantly, these connections were observed in older adults who did not exhibit any clinically relevant cognitive impairment.
This suggests that monitoring blood pressure variability could serve as an early clinical marker or a potential target for preventive interventions in cognitive impairment.
In summary, the research conducted by UniSA underscores the importance of considering blood pressure fluctuations as a crucial factor in assessing the risk of dementia and vascular health in older individuals.
By acknowledging the significance of both systolic and diastolic blood pressure variations, healthcare professionals may be better equipped to identify individuals at risk and implement early interventions to preserve cognitive function and overall well-being in aging populations.
This study paves the way for further research and a deeper understanding of the intricate relationship between blood pressure and cognitive health.
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The research findings can be found in Cerebral Circulation—Cognition and Behavior.
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