For Elderly, Elevated Blood Pressure May Enhance Cognitive Functions

Moderately elevated blood pressure may enhance certain cognitive functions for the elderly, according to the results of a study presented at the Seventeenth Annual Scientific Meeting of the American Society of Hypertension.

Researchers collected blood pressure data prior to conducting a series of cognitive tests on 495 patients between 70-85 years of age. They subsequently found that untreated and uncontrolled hypertensive patients outperformed normal and controlled hypertensive patients on five of seven cognitive tests.

"The data suggest that doctors and their patients may have to choose between cardiovascular and cognitive health," said Ofra Anson, PhD, Professor of Sociology, Recanati School of Health Professions at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.

This evidence may pose some difficult choices for the elderly and their cardiovascular caregivers, Dr. Anson said. Current treatment guidelines recommend controlling blood pressure at 140/90 mm Hg in the elderly in order to reduce the rate of cardiovascular-related mortality.

Yet study participants who tested at these recommended levels did not fare as well on cognitive tests measuring concentration, memory and visual retention as their hypertensive cohorts, she noted.

Previous studies have been inconclusive about the cognitive effects of hypertension and hypertension control among seniors. However, experts have speculated that because dementia has risk factors comparable to those of cardio- and cerebrovascular diseases, hypertensive treatment would similarly benefit the condition. This research from the Ben-Gurion University group challenges this hypothesis.

Calling for deeper investigation, they also said, "We'd like to know why blood pressure influenced only certain cognitive functions, and what effects the various antihypertensive agents will have on dementia. There is much more research that needs to be done on the complex role blood pressure plays in the health of the elderly. "

The American Society of Hypertension (ASH) is the largest US organization devoted exclusively to hypertension and related cardiovascular diseases. ASH is committed to alerting physicians, allied health professions and the public about new medical options, facts, research findings and treatment choices designed to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

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