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High Blood Pressure’s Hidden Risk: Memory Loss

As you get older, it’s inevitable that you’ll experience a bit of memory loss. The brain, just like every other part of your body, will lose some of its ability to function at peak levels. Your full range of cognitive functions – the inner workings of the brain – can begin to slip a little as the years roll by. 

But age, alone, isn’t responsible for degraded mental abilities. There are other preventable factors at play, including the serious threat presented by high blood pressure. It’s important to understand which of these factors might be responsible for your mental lapses. 

Links between hypertension – or high blood pressure – and cognitive decline have been suggested by research. Understanding why hypertension can lead to cognitive decline, along with how these two conditions are treated when they occur simultaneously, can help you and your doctor determine what’s going on with your brain. 

What is Cognitive Decline? 

Cognitive decline or impairment is defined as a reduction in one or more of these abilities: 

●       Attention

●       Language

●       Visual, spatial and perceptual abilities

●       Memory

●       Judgment

●       Awareness

●       Mental acuity (intelligence) 

While some decline is a normal part of the aging process, severe symptoms could be a sign of dementia. Dementia is an umbrella term that includes conditions characterized by the loss of brain functions such as memory or decision-making. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type.   

Connecting Memory Loss and High Blood Pressure 

Cognitive impairment and hypertension are two of the most common conditions affecting people in this country. And hypertension is known to be one of the biggest risk factors for dementia. That the two have been connected by researchers is not surprising. After all, the brain is full of blood vessels, and hypertension is a disease that affects blood vessels.

The brain receives about 20 percent of the body’s blood supply. If anything blocks or slows that blood flow, the brain can be hurt. With uncontrolled blood pressure, the vessels can become scarred, narrowed or diseased. 

Numerous studies have demonstrated that hypertension increases the risk for cognitive impairment, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. In one study, participants with hypertension were nearly three times as likely to experience cognitive decline when assessed after four years. 

Managing Hypertension-Related Cognitive Decline 

If your doctor suspects a link between blood pressure and cognitive decline, they may use imaging tests (an MRI for example) to look at the effect hypertension may be having on your brain. Because it’s such a big risk factor for cognitive impairment, it’s important for people with high blood pressure to be monitored for symptoms such as memory loss. And those already experiencing impairment should strive to control their blood pressure to prevent further problems. 

When blood pressure is managed —through medication or lifestyle changes like diet, weight loss and exercise — impairment symptoms may improve or even disappear. And if the damage is permanent, the goal is to keep it from getting worse. 

For adults with hypertension, well-controlled blood pressure is associated with fewer adverse changes in the brain, which may mean decreased risk of cognitive impairment. 

Should You See a Doctor? 

Most of us misplace our keys or forget a name every now and then. But if you or a loved one start noticing persistent and troubling symptoms, it may be time to see a doctor. They include: 

●       Changes in memory that are different or more extreme than usual

●       Difficulty communicating (not being able to find words, etc.)

●       Getting lost

●       Trouble completing everyday tasks 

If you have hypertension and are struggling with cognitive issues, it’s important that you see a healthcare provider for evaluation and better control of your blood pressure.

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