Powerful new findings

A new study in Cardiovascular Research indicates 50 year-olds with slightly raised blood pressure are at an increased risk of developing dementia in later life.

Blood pressure is the pressure of your blood against the inner walls of your arteries as it is pumped around the body by your heart. When this pressure is high, you are at greater risk of serious health problems including heart attacks, stroke, heart failure and kidney disease.

1 in 3 Australians aged 30 to 65 have been told by a doctor that they have high blood pressure. This equates to 3.5 million Australians.

What did the research involve?

Researchers used data from 8,639 people (32% women, 68% men) who’d had their blood pressure measured in 1985, 1991, 1997 and 2003.

They used electronic health records to find out whether people had developed dementia by the end of March 2017.

The results

After controlling for many risk factors, including stroke, heart failure and other cardiovascular diseases, they found that a systolic blood pressure at age 50 of 130 or greater was independently associated with a 38 per cent increased risk of dementia.

Paper author Dr Jessica Abell said the findings would help set guidelines for future patients.

“Previous research has not been able to test the link between raised blood pressure and dementia directly by examining the timing in sufficient detail,” she said.

“In our paper we were able to examine the association at age 50, 60 and 70, and we found different patterns of association. This will have important implications for policy guidelines, which currently only use the generic term ‘midlife’.”

Prevention of high blood pressure

The study adds to the reasons why you might want to avoid developing high blood pressure.

“There is plenty of evidence to suggest that maintaining a healthy blood pressure in middle age is important for both your heart and your brain later in life. Anyone who is concerned about their blood pressure levels should consult their GP,” Dr Abell said.

Some of the steps you can take to avoid developing high blood pressure include:

  • Eating a healthy low-salt diet
  • Not smoking
  • Not drinking too much alcohol
  • Keeping physically active
  • Losing weight if you’re overweight.

These steps may also have the added benefit of lowering your risk of dementia.