Cognitive Decline Related to Blood Pressure Fluctuations

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Over the years, research has indicated that those with high blood pressure are at greater risk of contracting a host of cardiac diseases including heart attack, stroke and heart disease. However, a new study conducted by scientists at the Rutgers Cancer Institute, New Jersey, now suggests that there is strong evidence that fluctuations in blood pressure also have an adverse affect on cognitive function in older adults.

Led by Bo Qin, Ph.D., a team of researchers analyzed data collected from 976 Chinese adults aged 55 and older who took part in the China Health and Nutrition Survey over five years. Each participant had their blood pressure measurements taken over the course of three-to-four doctor’s visits and engaged in various cognitive quizzes that involved counting backwards and word recall. From that information, researchers were able to examine blood pressure fluctuations in relation to a person’s cognitive function.

Researchers found that those participants with greater visit-to-visit variations in the upper part of their blood pressure (systolic) were linked to a faster decline in cognitive function and verbal memory. Subjects who showed a greater visit-to-visit change in the lower part of their blood pressure (diastolic) experienced that same decline, but only among adults aged 55-64, not 65 or above.

“Blood pressure variability might signal blood flow instability, which could lead to the damage of the finer vessels of the body with changes in brain structure and function,” said Bo (Bonnie) Qin, Ph.D., lead study author and a postdoctoral scholar at Rutgers Cancer Institute in New Brunswick, New Jersey. “These blood pressure fluctuations may indicate pathological processes such as inflammation and impaired function in the blood vessels themselves.”

“Controlling blood pressure instability could possibly be a potential strategy in preserving cognitive function among older adults,” she added, offering an option for future studies to explore in more depth.  Currently, doctors measure and record a person’s average blood pressure with less emphasis on what effects those fluctuations may have. These findings are eye-opening in terms of what the medical community understands about high blood pressure, and open the door for more trials to be conducted.

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