A new study reveals just how important blood pressure is to preventing Alzheimer's and dementia.
The study, which was funded by multiple agencies in the National Institutes of Health, was designed to test whether substantially lowering one's blood pressure could affect one's risk of developing Alzheimer's and dementia-related illnesses.
Researchers took more than 9,300 elderly people who had heart problems or were at a higher risk of developing heart disease because they had high blood pressure. One group was told to lower their blood pressure to less than 120 mm Hg while the other was told to lower their blood pressure to less than 140 mm Hg systolic. They were then tested over the course of 3 years on their memory and cognitive skills.
At the end of the three years, people who lowered their blood pressure to less than 120 mm Hg lowered their risk of developing probable dementia and other cognitive disorders by 15%, compared with those who only lowered their blood pressure to less than 140 mm Hg.
"It never occurred to me that controlling my blood pressure could protect me from dementia," Arthur Lane, a participant in the study told TIME. "I think this is wonderful."
Jess Williamson, chief of geriatric medicine at Wake Forest School of Medicine and the leader of the study, explained how high blood pressure can damage your brain.
"Over time, high blood pressure can damage the walls of very fragile arteries that deliver blood to the brain and other organs," he said. "And that can produce some of the things we see associated with dementia: inflammation and small strokes."
The results of the trial were presented at the annual Alzheimer's Association in Chicago last month. It gave hope to many experts who've only learned how to treat the symptoms of cognitive impairment instead of treating the root problem.
"It's one of the first real demonstrations of a lifestyle modification having an impact on late-life cognition," said Dr. Ronald Petersen, director of the Mayo Clinic Alzheimer's Disease Research Center.
Williamson said it also empowers people to lower their blood pressure, knowing it can be one of their best defenses against cognitive disease.
"This provides great encouragement for people to say, 'Yes, make sure your blood pressure is well controlled, because right now, it's one of the things you can do,'" he said.