Does High Blood Pressure Contribute To Dementia?

Although dementia affects more than 5 million white Americans, African American and Hispanic adults have a greater risk of developing dementia, according to the Alzheimer's Association. Because high blood pressure is believed to contribute to dementia, a recent study in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease looked at how blood pressure might explain differences in cognitive decline between white and Hispanic adults. The research combined the results of six studies, two of which specifically recruited Hispanics, that followed participants for several years. Data from more than 24,000 people were included in the analysis, with 22,095 of the participants identifying as white and 2,475 identifying as Hispanic.

Across all six studies, the Hispanic adults had slower cognitive decline overall. The two studies that intentionally recruited Hispanic people saw a sharper cognitive decline in the Hispanic participants than the white participants. However, the Hispanic participants had lower blood pressure compared to the white participants in these two studies.

When the researchers pooled all six studies and adjusted for systolic blood pressure, the cognitive decline was similar between ethnicities. In other words, the researchers found that for both groups, increases in systolic blood pressure are related to decreases in cognition, executive function, and memory.

Managing blood pressure controls cognitive decline

Even though the study couldn't identify blood pressure to be the factor for putting Hispanic adults at a higher risk for dementia, the lead author of the study, Deborah Levine, M.D., M.P.H., said in a news release it's important for people of all ethnicities to properly manage their blood pressure to prevent cognitive decline.

"Since other studies have shown that people of Hispanic heritage in the United States tend to have higher rates of uncontrolled hypertension than non-Hispanic white people, due in part to worse access to care, it's vital that they get extra support to control their blood pressure even if blood pressure is only part of the picture when it comes to their higher dementia risk," Levine said.

Levine added that the study didn't have access to income, quality of education, or family living circumstances that could also factor into the ethnic disparities in cognitive decline.