A recent study in Neurology found a link between the risk of having a stroke and future development of memory loss or cognitive decline. The link was strongly tied to high blood pressure. The study, called REGARDS, involved 23, 752 older adults, average age 64, and followed them for 4 years. In those with a higher risk of stroke at the start of the study they had a higher incidence of cognitive issues. For every 10mmHg increase in systolic blood pressure (the upper number) there was a 4.1% increase in the risk of developing cognitive issues.
The upper number of blood pressure, also called systolic, is very important in older adults as it tends to rise with age, which was another risk factor from this study that was correlated with stroke risk. In my experience with helping older adults it is common to find isolated systolic hypertension, occurring in about 30% over the age of 80. Isolated systolic hypertension is where the upper number is elevated but the lower (diastolic) number is normal. Treatment of this type of high blood pressure is very effective at preventing strokes in which only 13-18 people need to be treated to prevent one stroke. What is also important to note is that “silent strokes”, in which you have very small strokes that go undetectable but contribute to cognitive decline, can be reduced by better management of your high blood pressure.
My advice, pay attention to your blood pressure and if that upper number is higher than 140, see your doctor and start a conversation. Also keep in mind that self-monitoring of your blood pressure and sharing those recordings with your doctor is more likely to catch high blood pressure, and is also known to be more accurate than the occasional blood pressure check in the doctor’s office.