Uncontrolled high blood pressure means more cognitive problems in old age

WASHINGTON -- People with high blood pressure and their doctors have a new reason to work at controlling this common but high-risk condition: As patients get older, they might otherwise have worse-than-normal problems with short-term memory and verbal ability. New research shows that uncontrolled hypertension puts people at higher risk for sharper drops in these cognitive functions than does blood pressure that's normal due to diet, exercise and/or medication. The study appears in the current issue of Neuropsychology, which is published by the American Psychological Association (APA).

Because blood pressure typically increases with age, hypertension affects 60 percent of adults age 60 and older. However, this "silent killer" often goes undetected or inadequately treated, leaving nearly 40 percent of older hypertensive people with continued high readings -- even with treatment. As a result, the findings suggest that a substantial number of older people with uncontrolled hypertension will experience significant cognitive declines, especially because with age, hypertension becomes more common and harder to control.

Researchers at the Veterans Affairs (VA) Boston Healthcare System, Harvard Medical School and the Boston University School of Public Health looked at a subset of men in the VA Normative Aging Study, a longitudinal study that started in 1963 and added neuropsychological tests in 1993. In this smaller cross-sectional study, 357 men from the larger sample averaged 67 years of age, lived in the community, didn't have dementia or other serious medical problems, and showed stable blood pressure over a three-year interval. Hypertension was defined as measuring 140/90 and higher.

Co-authors Christopher Brady, PhD, Avron Spiro III, PhD, and J. Michael Gaziano, MD, MPH, found that the older the men, the predictably lower their overall neuropsychological performance. However, older men in the sample with uncontrolled hypertension did s

Contact: Pam Willenz
American Psychological Association

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