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Dementia Risk Factors: Blood Pressure

Blood pressure and health is a frequent topic of a casual conversation between friends. However, many people are not aware of the relationship between blood pressure and the risk of having dementia later in life.


Dementia Risk Factors: Blood Pressure

Blood pressure is a measure of the force blood exerts against the inner walls of the blood vessels and arteries as the heart pumps blood throughout the body. The first or higher number, the systolic pressure, determines the pressure in the arteries when the heart muscle contracts. A higher than normal pressure, one that is greater than 120, causes the heart to work harder and increases the risk for heart attacks, and strokes.


The second number, the diastolic pressure, determines the pressure in the arteries when the heart muscle relaxes between heartbeats. A lower than normal blood pressure is having a systolic pressure below 90 or a diastolic lower than 60. Most doctors consider chronically low blood pressure a problem only if it causes noticeable symptoms such as dizziness, fainting, or rapid and shallow breathing.


Some causes for too-high or too-low blood pressure are cardiovascular and neurological abnormalities present at birth and the side effects of certain medications.


Conditions and behaviors such as blood pressure, chronic kidney disease, heart disease, obesity, smoking, and insufficient exercise are all causes for having high blood pressure.


Risk factors associated with having low blood pressure include advanced age, medications such as the alpha-blockers used to treat high blood pressure, as well as having diseases such as diabetes, Parkinson's disease, severe infections, and certain heart conditions.


High blood pressure, independent of its cause, increases the risk of having Dementia. However, the good news is there are ways to decrease the risk for Alzheimer's disease and vascular dementia - the two most common types of Dementia. Some of these include reducing stress, eating a heart-healthy diet, getting regular exercise, and stopping smoking. It’s also important to follow your doctor’s instructions and take your blood pressure medication as prescribed.


Changing lifelong habits is often easier said than done. It’s difficult to reduce stress and to find the time to exercise when juggling the responsibilities of a tightly scheduled day. When eating out, or socializing with family, friends, and coworkers, it is a challenge to manage large portions and to choose foods that are low in saturated fats, salt and added sugar.


Support groups as well as your friends and family can be your best allies in helping you to achieve a healthier lifestyle. However, be sure to tell your friends and family the reason for making these lifestyle changes is to reduce your risk for dementia. Maybe, just maybe, your explanation will be the motivation they need to make similar healthful changes.


Contributor: Janet Yagoda Shagam, Ph.D., is a freelance medical and science writer and the author of “An Unintended Journey: A Caregiver's Guide to Dementia.”

The opinions expressed by contributing authors are not necessarily the opinions of the Dementia Society, Inc. We do not endorse nor guarantee products, comments, suggestions, links, or other forms of the content contained within blog posts that have been provided to us with permission, or otherwise. Dementia Society does not provide medical advice. Please consult your doctor. www.DementiaSociety.org


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