I do my best to keep up with the latest research about high blood pressure (hypertension) because this illness has had such an awful impact on many of my family members and friends. So, understandably, the cardiovascular risks, such as heart attacks and strokes, are all very well known to me.
Yet I was not aware of the impact high blood pressure also has on our mental health.
It appears that hypertension may accelerate the mental decline that often leads to Alzheimer’s disease. In other words, lowering our blood pressure may actually help prevent mental decline and the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.
Given that hypertension tends to increase – and cognitive functioning tends to decrease – as we get older, the relationship between the two and what we can do about it become quite important.
Usually, the early signs of Alzheimer’s disease develop at age 60 and double every five years after age 65. A new case is diagnosed every 68 seconds in the U.S., and that’s expected to shorten to every 33 seconds by 2050.
High blood pressure impacts our cognitive abilities because it damages our brains. This damage affects many of the mental activities that we need and use throughout our day, such as:
- Short-term and working memory as well as learning and retaining new things;
- How quickly we think, analyze and process information from the world around us;
- How well we organize our thoughts;
- Attention spans and our ability to keep focus;
- Planning and organization;
- Mental agility and flexibility;
- Response inhibition and control (the famous “mental filter”);
- Perceptual skills and problem-solving.
In light of this, what should our target blood pressure be to help reduce the risk of cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease?
One recent study suggested that maintaining a top blood pressure reading at less than 120 instead of 140 reduced the risk of developing mild cognitive impairment by about 20 percent.
However, it is worth noting that having blood pressure that is too low (with a lower number below 70) isn’t a good thing either since it’s now clear that excessively low blood pressure – also known as hypotension – can also promote cognitive decline, especially if you’re over 80 years old.
Keeping this in mind, the best bet is to work closely with a competent healthcare professional to determine the right range for you.
It turns out that many of the things we can do to better manage our blood pressure will keep us mentally sharp as we age. As an added bonus, they also may help delay the onset of Alzheimer’s.
But, no matter what steps we take, the sooner we take them, the better since hypertension may start damaging our brains way before we start to notice any mental decline.
Additionally, it’s important to incorporate the following healthier habits into our lifestyles as much as we can since being consistent brings us greater health benefits.
The first – and the most important – thing we can immediately do to manage our hypertension and slow down any mental decline is ensuring our body has the appropriate balance of the right nutrients that it needs.
This means getting rid of unhealthy fats, sugar and processed foods in our diets and replacing them with a diet rich in plant-based foods.
It’s also better to try and prepare more meals at home rather than dining out since this gives us better control (and knowledge) of exactly what and how much we are eating.
There is credible evidence to suggest that regular yoga practice may reduce the blood pressure among patients with hypertension.
Other Types of Physical Activity
Physical activity, in all its forms, can also help us to better manage our weight as well as hypertension. It also has the added benefit of possibly lowering our risk for developing dementia and may even improve cognitive scores in those who already have dementia or mild cognitive impairment.
The National Institute of Health found evidence that aerobic exercise, in particular, may help in keeping our brains healthy. We should always talk to our doctor or a competent healthcare professional about what types of exercise are appropriate for us.
At-Home Blood Pressure Monitoring
Another thing that can help is making the commitment to do at-home blood pressure monitoring.
A pilot initiative by the American Heart Association suggested that adults with consistently high blood pressure were able to better control their numbers when they were given home blood pressure monitors, online and print resources for tracking their readings and regular reminders to take their blood pressure.
Their healthcare providers were also kept in the loop. So, if your doctor has not yet suggested home monitoring, you may want to discuss it with him or her. (Read here for more information about hypertension).
My takeaway from all this is that by taking care of one aspect of our health, we also may be taking care of another. If we manage our blood pressure, we may reduce the likelihood of mental decline as we age.
Are you or someone close to you struggling with mental decline or Alzheimer’s symptoms? Have you spoken with your healthcare provider about whether hypertension may be causing or making it worse? If so, what are you doing to prevent it? Tell us about it. Please join the conversation.