High blood pressure in a person’s 30’s is linked to worse brain health in their 70’s. The corresponding study was published in JAMA.
High blood pressure is the most common modifiable risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease. Studies have found a link between midlife hypertension and cognitive decline later in life as well as dementia. However, how hypertension before midlife affects dementia risk remains understudied.
In the current study, researchers investigated the link between hypertension that developed before midlife and late-life brain health. To do so, they included blood pressure readings from 427 participants who were an average of 29 years old at the first checkup and 40 years old at the second. Participants also underwent neuroimaging via an MRI scan at around 75 years old.
After analyzing the data, the researchers found that hypertension in early adulthood and those who transitioned to high blood pressure were more likely to have features on MRI scans linked to neurodegeneration and dementia. These included lower cerebral gray matter volume, less frontal cortex volume, and less brain connectivity. They also found that the effects were more pronounced in men than women.
The researchers noted that their findings are limited as they only collected MRI data at one time point, meaning they do not have evidence of neurodegeneration over time. They also noted that as their sample size was relatively small, they were unable to examine racial and ethnic differences. They added that sex differences should also be interpreted with caution.
"This study truly demonstrates the importance of early life risk factors, and that to age well, you need to take care of yourself throughout life -- heart health is brain health," said Rachel Whitmer, senior author of the study and professor in the departments of Public Health Sciences and Neurology and chief of the Division of Epidemiology at the University of California Davis in a press release.
"We are excited to be able to continue following these participants and to uncover more about what one can do in early life to set yourself up for healthy brain aging in late life," she added.