'Aggressive' blood pressure control helps beat dementia, study finds

It is estimated millions of people have undiagnosed high blood pressure
It is estimated millions of people have undiagnosed high blood pressure Credit: Alamy

Intensive blood pressure control may be crucial for preventing dementia in later life, a new study has found

A new study found intense control was 57 per cent more effective at slowing the accumulation of white matter lesions than standard treatment of high blood pressure.

A previous study by the same research group showed the treatment lowered the chances of people developing mild cognitive impairment.

Dr Walter Koroshetz, director of the National Institutes of Health's (NIH) National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, said: "These initial results support a growing body of evidence suggesting that controlling blood pressure may not only reduce the risk of stroke and heart disease but also of age-related cognitive loss.

"I strongly urge people to know your blood pressure and discuss with your doctors how to optimise control.

"It may be a key to your future brain health."

In an American study, researchers used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to scan the brains of participants.

White matter lesions, which appear bright white on MRI scans, represent an increase in water content and reflect a variety of changes deep inside the brain.

This includes the thinning of myelin - a white fatty coating that protects nerve fibres, leaky brain blood vessels, or multiple strokes.

These changes are associated with high blood pressure, or hypertension.

A number of studies have indicated that people with hypertension have a greater chance of accumulating white matter lesions and also of experiencing cognitive disorders and dementia later in life.

The results of the study, using data from a clinical trial called Sprint Memory and Cognition in Decreased Hypertension (Mind), have been published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

More than 9,300 adults who were aged at least 50 and had a high risk of cardiovascular disease received either standard treatment, which lowered systolic blood pressure to less than 140 mm Hg.

Or they received intensive treatment to lower the same pressure reading below 120 mm Hg.

Researchers compared brain scans of 449 participants that were taken at enrolment, to scans taken four years later.

The average increase in total volume of white matter lesions on scans of the intensive treatment group was 0.92 cm3.

This was compared to the 1.45 cm3 seen on scans from the standard treatment participants.