A new study published in the European Heart Journal has for the first time directly linked high blood pressure to the same regions of the brain that are associated with dementia and declines in mental processes. Prior to this study, researchers had causally linked high blood pressure with changes in the brain but this study clarifies how blood pressure damages the brain by connecting specific regions in the brain to both high blood pressure and decline in cognitive function. To examine the effect of high blood pressure on cognitive function, researchers used information from MRI brain scans, genetic analyses, and observational data from thousands of patients. Nine parts of the brain saw changes related to higher blood pressure and worse cognitive function, including the part responsible for regulating movement and influencing certain types of learning. Other parts of the brain affected include those involved in executive functions, planning of simple and complex daily tasks, and the management of emotions and decision making.
The study is significant as high blood pressure affects 30% of people worldwide. For years, researchers have attempted to explain the link between high blood pressure and cognitive function. While multiple studies have suggested there is a link, this study shows the parts of the brain affected by both health problems. A 2019 study published in the Journal of Clinical Medicine suggested blood pressure could be considered an early biomarker for measuring cognitive impairment in individuals without dementia or stroke. Another 2019 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that lowering blood pressure lowers the impact of mild cognitive impairment, a known risk factor for dementia.
It is important to note that this study does not offer any opinions or recommendations for treatment. However, it does highlight the importance of managing high blood pressure to prevent damage to the brain and declines in cognitive function. Further research is needed to explore the link between high blood pressure and cognitive decline and to develop effective treatments.