What causes Alzheimer’s? This isn’t a million-dollar question. It’s a multi-billion-dollar question. As researchers dig for answers, they continue to discover new complexities to the disease. As it turns out, there are many contributing factors that increase the risk of Alzheimer’s. One of those risk factors is high blood pressure.
How is high blood pressure connected to Alzheimer’s and can controlling high blood pressure help today’s middle-aged adults avoid Alzheimer’s in the future? A recent report from Johns Hopkins offers some intriguing insights into the matter.
The Scoop on High Blood Pressure
Every time your heart beats, it sends blood through your blood vessels and arteries to deliver oxygen and other nutrients to your muscles. Your heart needs to exert pressure to force your blood to move, but as with everything in life, there is a fine balance. When the pressure of the blood becomes too high, it can put stress on blood vessels and arteries, damaging delicate tissues. Small tears in the arteries collect LDL cholesterol, which narrows the arteries and forces the heart to beat harder to move blood throughout the body. This, in turn, increases the blood pressure even more.
It’s a nasty cycle, and over time, high blood pressure can lead to atherosclerosis, strokes, and heart attacks.
This is especially concerning, because so many Americans suffer from high blood pressure. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, roughly 30% of adults currently have high pressure. That translates into one in three Americans!
What is even scarier is that high blood pressure has now been linked to an increased risk of Alzheimer’s!
The Link Between High Blood Pressure and Alzheimer’s
Several studies over the past few years have discovered a link between high blood pressure in middle age and Alzheimer’s later in life. A recent study published in the journal Neurology found that those with higher blood pressure were more likely to have the tangles and plaques in their brains that are telltale signs of Alzheimer’s and dementia. According to the study, a systolic blood pressure reading of 147 increased the risk of developing brain lesions by 46%! (Note: Healthy systolic blood pressure is considered to be 120 or lower.)
Why does high blood pressure increase the risk of Alzheimer’s? Researchers do not yet have a definitive answer, but they have proposed several theories. It may be that high blood pressure prevents the body from cleaning out proteins that then break down to toxic forms and eventually become tangles and plaques. Another theory is that high blood pressure damages blood vessels in the brain.
Even though we don’t yet know exactly why high blood pressure is more likely to lead to Alzheimer’s and dementia, since we do know that connection exists, it’s worth asking if controlling high blood pressure can also lower the risk of Alzheimer’s.
Can Fighting High Blood Pressure Also Fight Alzheimer’s?
Fortunately, the answer looks like it might be yes! A new report from Johns Hopkins published in the journal Neurology found that treating high blood pressure with medication can dramatically reduce the chances of an individual developing Alzheimer’s down the road.
The study found an incredible 75% decrease in the incidence of Alzheimer’s in individuals who took potassium-sparing diuretics. Those who took other types of antihypertensive medication lowered their risk by one third, which is still an impressive reduction.
What made this report even more intriguing is that the researchers found that those who already had symptoms of Alzheimer’s could potentially stop the progression of the disease by taking certain antihypertensives.
According to Constantine Lyketsos, M.D., director of the Memory and Alzheimer’s Treatment Center at Johns Hopkins, “it’s not clear if the connection comes from managing the blood pressure better or if the particular drugs might have properties that interfere with other processes relating to Alzheimer’s.” Dr. Lyketsos thinks the answer could be a little of both.
What You Can Do with This Information
These results are exciting, because it gives those with Alzheimer’s and their immediate family members clear steps to take. For those with Alzheimer’s, it may be worth scheduling a doctor’s appointment to check the individual’s blood pressure and to see if blood pressure medication should be prescribed, which could potentially slow the progression of the disease.
If a close biological relative, like your grandparents, parents, or siblings have developed Alzheimer’s, it’s worth keeping a close eye on your own blood pressure. Many drug stores offer free blood pressure testing, and you can even purchase your own blood pressure monitor for less than $50.
If you do find that you have high blood pressure, (pre-high blood pressure starts at 120 over 80 and high blood pressure is considered 140 over 90 or higher), and you have a family history of Alzheimer’s, it’s time to seek treatment.
We recommend visiting your doctor right away to find out if a prescription blood pressure medication is right for you. This is also a great wakeup call to make healthy changes to your diet and exercise routine. If you needed an excuse to quit your stressful job or severe ties with toxic relationships, this is it!
By controlling your high blood pressure today, you may just be able to avoid Alzheimer’s tomorrow!
There Is No Permanent Fix
Although we are learning more and more about lifestyle changes that can help lower the risk of developing Alzheimer’s, there is currently no cure for the disease. If someone you love is suffering from Alzheimer’s and you live in the Poway, Sabre Springs, Rancho Bernardo, or 4S Ranch area of California, we invite you to join us for our free monthly caregiver’s support meetings.
Categories: Memory Care