Is there a connection between Alzheimer’s disease and high blood pressure?

High blood pressure or hypertension occurs when either systolic or diastolic pressure remains elevated over time. Uncontrolled blood pressure can lead to heart disease, kidney damage and stroke and is linked to the increased risk of cognitive decline and dementia. In a Johns Hopkins 2013 study, researchers found that older individuals with high blood pressure or hypertension were more likely to have biomarkers for Alzheimer’s in their spinal fluid.

Small blood vessels in the brain, damaged by high blood pressure, affect parts of the brain responsible for thinking and memory. The study revealed that the use of blood pressure medications reduced the risk of Alzheimer’s by nearly 75 percent.

People not affected by Alzheimer’s disease who were taking blood pressure medications were less likely to develop dementia. In people with dementia from Alzheimer’s disease who took certain antihypertensives (class of drugs to treat hypertension), the disease was less likely to progress.

Researchers have yet to determine if the connection comes from managing the blood pressure better or if the particular drugs might have properties that interfere with other processes relating to Alzheimer’s.

So to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, learn how to control your hypertension. Diet and exercise are critical factors in maintaining normal blood pressure readings. The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet, which includes a diet high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, poultry, fish and nuts — has been successful in lower blood pressure.

Exercising, such as walking 30 minutes a day, is also important in reducing hypertension, and the combination of a healthy diet with exercise can shed excess weight that contributes to high blood pressure. Blood pressure can be managed at home with an automatic blood pressure cuff to monitor individual readings daily.

If lifestyle measures aren’t successful, a doctor might prescribe medication. Normal blood pressure is when the systolic level is less than 120 and the diastolic level is less than 80 (120/80). Readings that exceed 140 or higher over 90 or higher indicate high blood pressure.

Questions about Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia disorder? Contact Dana Territo, the Memory Whisperer, Director of Services at Alzheimer’s Services of the Capital Area, (225) 334-7494, advice@alzbr.org, or visit the organization at 3772 North Blvd., Baton Rouge.