High Blood Pressure Can Impair Cognitive Function | Loyola Medicine
Friday, October 28, 2016

High Blood Pressure Can Impair Cognitive Function, Pose Risk for Alzheimer's

Loyola Neurologist José Biller, MD, Co-authors AHA Statement

MAYWOOD, IL – High blood pressure in middle age can lead to impaired cognition and is a potential risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease, according to a statement from the American Heart Association co-authored by Loyola Medicine neurologist José Biller, MD.

Dr. Biller is a member of the multidisciplinary panel of experts that wrote the statement, published in the heart association journal Hypertension. Dr. Biller is chair of the department of neurology of Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine.

Dementia affects an estimated 30 to 40 million people worldwide, and the number is expected to triple by 2050 due to an aging population and other factors.

An estimated 80 million people in the United States have hypertension, and the brain is among the organs most affected. Except for age, hypertension is the most important risk factor for vascular problems in the brain that lead to stroke and dementia.

There is consistent evidence that chronic high blood pressure during middle age (40 to 64) is associated with altered cognitive function in both middle age and late life (65 to 84). Cognitive abilities that are affected include memory, speed of processing and executive function (ability to organize thoughts, manage time, make decisions, etc.)

The effect of high blood pressure in late life is less clear. Some studies suggest it’s harmful, while other research suggests it may improve cognition. This highlights “the complexities of recommending uniform levels of blood pressure across the life course,” the expert panel wrote.

Observational studies have demonstrated that high blood pressure causes atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and other damage to the brain’s blood vessels, leading to reduced blood flow to brain cells. But evidence from clinical trials that treating blood pressure improves cognition is not conclusive.

After carefully reviewing available studies, the panel concluded there are not enough data to make evidence-based recommendations. However, judicious treatment of high blood pressure, taking into account goals of care and the patient’s individual characteristics, “seems justified to safeguard vascular health and, as a consequence, brain health,” the panel concluded.

The panel is chaired by Constantino Iadecola, MD, of Weill Cornell Medicine and co-chaired by Kristine Yaffe, MD, of the University of California San Francisco.

About Loyola Medicine and Trinity Health

Loyola Medicine, a member of Trinity Health, is a quaternary care system based in the western suburbs of Chicago that includes Loyola University Medical Center (LUMC), Gottlieb Memorial Hospital, MacNeal Hospital and convenient locations offering primary and specialty care services from 1,877 physicians throughout Cook, Will and DuPage counties. LUMC is a 547-licensed-bed hospital in Maywood that includes the William G. and Mary A. Ryan Center for Heart & Vascular Medicine, the Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center, a Level 1 trauma center, Illinois's largest burn center, a certified comprehensive stroke center and a children’s hospital. Having delivered compassionate care for over 50 years, Loyola also trains the next generation of caregivers through its teaching affiliation with Loyola University Chicago’s Stritch School of Medicine and Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing. Gottlieb is a 247-licensed-bed community hospital in Melrose Park with 150 physician offices, an adult day care program, the Gottlieb Center for Fitness, the Loyola Center for Metabolic Surgery and Bariatric Care and the Loyola Cancer Care & Research at the Marjorie G. Weinberg Cancer Center at Melrose Park. MacNeal Hospital is a 374-bed teaching hospital in Berwyn with advanced inpatient and outpatient medical, surgical and psychiatric services, advanced diagnostics and treatments. MacNeal has a 12-bed acute rehabilitation unit, a 25-bed inpatient skilled nursing facility, and a 68-bed behavioral health program and community clinics. MacNeal has provided quality, patient-centered care to the near west suburbs since 1919.

Trinity Health is one of the largest multi-institutional Catholic healthcare systems in the nation, serving diverse communities that include more than 30 million people across 22 states. Trinity Health includes 94 hospitals, as well as 109 continuing care locations that include PACE programs, senior living facilities and home care and hospice services. Its continuing care programs provide nearly 2.5 million visits annually. Based in Livonia, Mich., and with annual operating revenues of $18.3 billion and assets of $26.2 billion, the organization returns $1.1 billion to its communities annually in the form of charity care and other community benefit programs. Trinity employs about 133,000 colleagues, including 7,800 employed physicians and clinicians. Committed to those who are poor and underserved in its communities, Trinity is known for its focus on the country's aging population. As a single, unified ministry, the organization is the innovator of Senior Emergency Departments, the largest not-for-profit provider of home health care services—ranked by number of visits—in the nation, as well as the nation’s leading provider of PACE (Program of All Inclusive Care for the Elderly) based on the number of available programs.