One of the things that all people worry about as we age is will we be able to function normally from the standpoint of our mental capacities. What we want to know is whether there is anything we can do to prevent the loss of memory as we age.
There is a new research paper published in the medical journal, Neurology, by Unverzagt an investigator in Indiana. The research team followed nearly 24,000 people without a stroke to determine if they had a loss in cognitive function defined as a reduction in memory. Fifty-six percent of the population lived in our area known as the stroke belt including SC, NC, GA, AL, MS, TN, AR, and LA and 45% were men and 42% African American. In other words, it is a study that focuses and includes much of the population similar to our region. The people were followed (called and visited periodically) for an average of 4 years.
Eight percent of the people met the study criteria for development of cognitive impairment (not severe, but significant and measurable slippage in memory function) over the four years of the study. Those who developed the memory loss tended to be older, male, African American, lived in the Stroke Belt (our region of the country) and had less formal education.
In trying to assess factors associated with the memory loss that might be important in terms of prevention it was found that elevated blood pressure, antihypertensive medications, atrial fibrillation, history of heart disease and prevalence of diabetes were factors associated with the cognitive decline. Specifically the higher the systolic blood pressure the more decline there was in memory function.
One interesting finding is that alcohol use seemed to be a bit protective, but this, of course, does not give one license to take too much alcohol since this is a known drug that can harm the brain when used in excess.
So what is important in this new study? The actionable item is that treatment of elevated blood pressure is important to prevent changes in cognition. We have known for a long time that stroke and other cardiovascular problems are more likely in people with hypertension. Now we know more subtle things like memory loss are also a possible result. So annual, or more frequent blood pressure measurements and treatments of elevations, may very well keep our minds better as we age.
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