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Untreated high blood pressure in midlife increases the risk of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease in later life.
The link between high blood pressure and dementia is twofold.
Speaking to the Irish Heart Foundation to mark National Brain Awareness Week, Professor Brian Lawlor, Consultant Psychiatrist and Chair of the HSE’s Dementia: Understand Together campaign, explained that high blood pressure is one of the main risk factors for stroke and that those who have suffered a number of strokes were likely to develop cognitive impairment and vascular dementia.
There is also a separate link between hypertension and dementia he said, in that people who have untreated high blood pressure in midlife (40s to 60s) have an increased risk of developing dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease later in life.
Therefore, Prof Lawlor said it was vital that people in their 40s to 60s get their blood pressure checked and know what their measurements were. He added that it’s a good idea for younger people between the ages of 20 and 40 to also get their blood pressure checked.
“You should know what your blood pressure is and the only way to do this is to have it checked. People are not aware that they have high blood pressure because it usually doesn’t produce any symptoms. High blood pressure in midlife increases your risk of developing dementia later in life. If people were aware of this fact and had it dealt with in midlife this could potentially reduce their risk of developing dementia later in life, not just vascular dementia but Alzheimer’s disease as well,” Prof Lawlor stated.
“People should get their blood pressure checked they should be aware of it and monitor it. It is a very important modifiable risk factor that could reduce your risk of developing dementia later in life,"
The link between high blood pressure and its effect on the brain is still unclear.
“We don’t know exactly what the exact mechanism is. It may be when you get high blood pressure this can interfere with the supply of blood to the brain by narrowing small blood vessels and this may trigger an increase in the deposition of amyloid and also result in areas of low blood supply in the brain.”
Amyloid is a protein that can build up in the brain. Amyloid clumps together forming plaques that can disrupt the working of the brain in Alzheimer’s disease.
“That may be what is happening in terms of the high blood pressure risk and its association with Alzheimer’s disease, but we don’t know for sure,” Prof Lawlor added.
Prof Lawlor said the main take home message was that undiagnosed and untreated hypertension in midlife increases the risk of dementia and people should get their blood pressure checked.
“People should get their blood pressure checked they should be aware of it and monitor it. It is a very important modifiable risk factor that could reduce your risk of developing dementia later in life. There are other risk factors that you can’t change like age and genes but there are things that you can modify, and high blood pressure is one of them. Things that are good for your heart such as regular exercise and a good diet are also good for your brain.”
“High blood pressure is a major risk for stroke, vascular dementia and heart disease and the only way to know you have high blood pressure is to have it checked,"
Commenting Marese Damery, Health Check Manager with the Irish Heart Foundation, said, “High blood pressure is a major risk for stroke, vascular dementia and heart disease and the only way to know you have high blood pressure is to have it checked.
“Remember to have regular checks and to take your medication if you have been diagnosed with high blood pressure. Nearly 1 million people in Ireland over the age of 50 have high blood pressure. The Irish Heart Foundation recommends individuals over the age of 30 have their blood pressure checked at least once a year or more often if they have a family history of stroke, vascular dementia and heart attack. Visit our Mobile Health Unit where our nurse can provide you with a blood pressure and pulse check and answer any queries you have about your hearth health.”
National Brain Awareness Week, co-ordinated by the Neurological Alliance of Ireland, takes place from March 11 to 17 and sees a range of information events taking place countrywide.
If you are worried that you or a loved one may be experiencing symptoms of dementia, it is a good idea to speak with your GP. You can also contact a dementia advisor by calling Freephone 1800 341 341 or visiting understandtogether.ie to find out more.
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