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Approximately half of adults in the United States have high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, but nearly 20 percent of Americans with hypertension do not realize they have it. This is because hypertension is known as “the silent killer.” It often does not cause any symptoms that people can see or feel. 

Additionally, a report from the American Heart Association published that Black/African American individuals have higher rates of hypertension compared to other racial or ethnic groups. This health disparity is due to many factors and is most likely associated with higher rates of obesity and diabetes among the Black/African American population.

High blood pressure has an immediate connection to issues like heart disease and stroke. However, another, less often discussed side effect of high blood pressure is cognitive decline. Hypertension can negatively impact individuals’ cognitive function, causing symptoms like forgetfulness and brain fog. It might also potentially trigger more severe cognitive problems like vascular dementia.

In this post, we will explain how our brain health can be affected by high blood pressure and what might cause individuals to get high blood pressure. We also provide people with suggestions for preventing high blood pressure at an early stage.

How does high blood pressure affect brain health?

While the brain only makes up about 2 percent of the body’s weight, it receives 20 percent of the body’s blood supply. Blood vessels deliver oxygen, glucose, and other nutrients to brain cells, which provide the energy the brain requires to function properly. However, when blood pressure increases, blood vessels will begin to get harder or form smaller vessels to stop the high pressure. This could lead to bulging blood vessels and reduced oxygen delivery to the brain, eventually affecting cognitive function or even causing vascular dementia.

Studies have shown that hypertension in middle age increases the likelihood of later-life cognitive decline, which affects general cognition, memory, and processing speed. For example, the National Institute on Aging studied the association of midlife hypertension with dementia later in life. National Institute on Aging researchers measured cognition in 3,703 Japanese American men in Hawaii, with an average age of 78, who had their blood pressure taken more than 20 years ago.

Their findings suggest that elevated blood pressure in middle age can increase the risk for later-life dementia. However, the link between dementia and high blood pressure was not present in men who had anti-hypertensive medication treatment.

How can you prevent high blood pressure?

By making little changes to your daily routine and, if necessary, by taking medication, you may be able to lower your blood pressure. Even though it’s always preferable to correct these issues earlier in life, if you’re an older adult, you can still take steps to reduce hypertension. Here are some suggestions that can help:

  1. Diet
    • Reduce your salt intake. The body and blood pressure become increasingly sensitive to salt as you age, so limiting your daily salt intake could be beneficial for controlling hypertension.
    • Eat lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fish. Having a good diet can help lower blood pressure.
  1. Exercise
    • High blood pressure can be reduced with moderate exercise, like brisk walking or swimming. You can lower your systolic pressure by 4 to 9 mm Hg or more by walking for 30 minutes a day.
  1. Weight control
    • Obesity increases your risk of developing high blood pressure.                
    • A weight control strategy may include: eating smaller portions; drinking water rather than sugary drinks; exercising regularly.
  1. Limit alcohol intake.
    • Excessive alcohol consumption can cause a rise in blood pressure over time.
  1. Stress control
    • Coping with problems and managing stress can help lower hypertension.

High blood pressure may be managed, along with your brain health, even if it is a serious condition. This is even true later in life. It’s never too late to begin!

For More Information

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Hidden Brain Risk: Midlife High Blood Pressure