If the risk of a stroke or heart attack doesn’t scare us into controlling our blood pressure, surely a heightened risk for vascular dementia should. While Alzheimer’s is consented by experts as the most common form of dementia, vascular dementia follows closely behind in ranking. The two mixed together are also common, so we should consider ourselves at risk for dementia unless we have a healthy vascular system.
A large study from The George Institute for Global Health, and reported on by Medical News Today, lays bare the fact that high blood pressure can significantly raise anyone’s risk for developing vascular dementia.
For this study, the medical records of over four million people were analyzed. The researchers found that high blood pressure was associated with a 62 percent higher risk of vascular dementia for people between the ages of 30 and 50. Even after adjusting for the effects of a stroke, which is the leading cause of vascular dementia, the study found that having high blood pressure still increased one’s risk for developing vascular dementia.
However, there is hope. Professor Kazem Rahimi, Deputy Director of The George Institute, was quoted in the report as saying, “Our results suggest that lowering blood pressure, either by exercise, diet or blood pressure lowering drugs, could reduce the risk of vascular dementia.”
Vascular dementia is caused by a reduced blood supply to the brain due to damaged arteries. The disease affects around 1.25 million people in the United States, alone. Controlling high blood pressure has the potential of not only decreasing a person’s risk for having a heart attack or stroke, but vascular dementia, as well.
With so much attention focused on Alzheimer’s disease, for which lifestyle change has been shown to help some people, there are other benefits to be gained, as well. By improving our lifestyle, we can often help ourselves stay healthier, overall, as well as lower our risk of suffering from other forms of dementia.
What is new about these findings is that while high blood pressure is a known risk factor for stroke and cardiovascular disease, some studies conflicted over the risk for vascular dementia. Some even indicated that low blood pressure was associated with an increased risk of dementia. The number of medical records used for this study – again, records for more than four million people – should put those ideas to rest.
One method of lowering our risk for high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease and dementia is to manage our stress levels. Stress contributes to all of these diseases, and more.
Loneliness has been shown to increase our risk of stroke, heart attack and dementia, so it’s good to socialize. Being with people whose company we enjoy can lower stress levels significantly for some patients.
Focusing on just one area of health isn’t likely to be effective. We are truly the sum of our parts. The Alzheimer’s Association’s catch phrase, “what’s good for the heart is good for the brain,” does not relate only to Alzheimer’s. The human body, after all, is an integrated whole.
Managing your blood pressure can be a starting point toward better overall health. Ask your doctor if you aren’t sure what your target should be or how to reach that goal.
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Association of Ideal Cardiovascular Health With Vascular Brain Injury and Incident Dementia (Abstract)
Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran family caregiver who spent more than two decades caring for a total of seven elders. She is a newspaper columnist and the author of Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories. Bradley Bursack is also a contributor to several books on caregiving and dementia, and is passionate about preserving the dignity of elders. Her website is www.mindingourelders.com. Follow Carol on Twitter @mindingourelder and on Facebook at Minding Our Elders.