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Could blood pressure influence the rate of cognitive decline in Alzheimer’s disease?
In 2018, a study published in the journal Neurology found that older individuals with high blood pressure were more likely to have toxic tangles of protein in their brains — a physiological mark of cognitive decline.
And earlier this year, research featured in Acta Neuropathologica suggested that Alzheimer’s disease and cardiovascular risk factors could have a common genetic denominator.
Now, researchers from the NILVAD study group — which involves the participation of several European research institutions — have analyzed evidence that seems to suggest that fluctuating blood pressure has links to a faster rate of cognitive decline in people with Alzheimer’s disease.
The analysis, which appears in the journal Hypertension, looked at data from NILVAD, which is a double-blind, placebo-controlled phase III trial. The trial is looking at whether doctors could use nilvadipine, a hypertension drug, in the treatment of Alzheimer’s.
Can managing blood pressure aid treatment?
For the current study, the researchers first analyzed the data of 460 people from the NILVAD trial. The average age of the people was 72, and each had a diagnosis of mild-to-moderate Alzheimer’s disease.
At this point, the team only used the data of participants who had provided blood pressure measurements on at least three different visits to the clinical trial center.
The team found that after 1.5 years, those who appeared to have the highest blood pressure variability showed a faster rate of cognitive decline than those whose blood pressure did not vary so much.
Following this, the researchers also analyzed the data of a subset of 46 participants who had provided daily blood pressure measurements. In this subset, the team found “significant associations” between blood pressure fluctuations and quicker progression of cognitive decline after 1 year.
However, the association was no longer there at the 1.5 years landmark for this group of participants.
“Everybody already knows that it’s important to control blood pressure in midlife to reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s later, but this tells us it’s still important to regulate blood pressure when you already have dementia,” says senior author Dr. Jurgen Claassen, from Radboud University Medical Center in Nijmegen, Netherlands.
“More fluctuations [in blood pressure] might affect whether cognitive function declines more slowly or rapidly.”
Dr. Jurgen Claassen
Because the current findings presented some inconsistencies, the senior investigator also stresses that “[f]uture research is needed to find out if blood pressure variability is truly causing the dementia to worsen.”
“If that’s true,” Dr. Claassen continues, “medication or lifestyle [changes] might help slow down disease progression. But it could also be the other way around […] that the dementia itself might lead to blood pressure variability, which could be a signal that helps you identify people with Alzheimer’s.”
The researchers also note that the current study faced various limitations, including the relatively small sample size, and the fact that the research was only observational. However, they hope that future studies will be able to build on the current findings and find out which interventions might help people with Alzheimer’s the most.
“Alzheimer’s treatments are limited at this point, and even a small difference in slowing down the disease’s progression can mean a lot. It could be the difference between whether or not a [person] is still able to drive a car and live independently,” says Dr. Claassen.
Nine ways to raise blood pressure
When a person’s blood pressure is low enough to cause symptoms, it can have serious health consequences, including shock and kidney failure. Symptoms of low blood pressure include dizziness, fatigue, and nausea. Here we look at potential causes of the condition and also explain nine ways to raise blood pressure safely.
How do you check your own blood pressure?
It is common to have your blood pressure checked at the doctor’s office, but there are many cases where it is important to monitor it at home. It is easy to check blood pressure with an automated machine, but it can also be done manually at home. Learn how to check your own blood pressure and what the results mean.
Fifteen natural ways to lower your blood pressure
High blood pressure can damage the heart. It is common, affecting one in three people in the U.S. and 1 billion people worldwide. We describe why stress, sodium, and sugar can raise blood pressure and why berries, dark chocolate, and certain supplements may help to lower it. Learn about these factors and more here.
What is a normal blood pressure?
Blood pressure is essential to life because it forces the blood around the body, delivering all the nutrients it needs. Here, we explain how to take your blood pressure, what the readings mean, and what counts as low, high, and normal. The article also offers some tips on how to maintain healthy blood pressure.
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