Elderly individuals with higher blood pressure may harbor more signs of brain disease, particularly brain lesions, a new study has revealed.

The researchers also saw a link between higher blood pressure later in life and Alzheimer’s disease mainly through tangles in the brain.

Study Details

The team looked at whether blood pressure later in life was tied to brain aging, with signs including plaques and tangles usually linked to Alzheimer’s, as well as brain lesions that can increase with age and can result in stroke.

“Blood pressure changes with aging and disease, so we wanted to see what kind of impact it may have on the brain,” study author Dr. Zoe Arvanitakis, of Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, said in a statement.

Blood pressure is defined as healthy if it’s below 120/80 millimeters of mercury (mmHg). High blood pressure is defined as above 140/90 mmHg.

The team followed 1,288 elderly people until their death, which was eight years later on average and on an average age of 89 years old at death. Two-thirds of the subjects had a history of having high blood pressure, while 87 percent of them took medication for it. Nearly half or 48 percent had at least one brain lesion.

They documented blood pressure annually for every subject and conducted autopsies on the brains following death. They found that brain lesion risk increased in people with higher average systolic blood pressure, the pressure in the blood vessels when the heart beats.

Higher average diastolic blood pressure, or the pressure whenever the heart is at rest, also related to brain lesions that a rise of one standard deviation yielded a 28 percent increased risk of having at least one brain lesion.

The results remained when they accounted for other factors that can potentially affect brain lesion risk, such as the use of high blood pressure medications.

The Alzheimer’s Matter

When they looked for signs of Alzheimer’s during an autopsy, the team saw a connection between higher average systolic blood pressure years before death and a higher tangle rate, but not plaques. This entails more research as it’s difficult to interpret right now, Arvanitakis said.

The study had a number of limitations, such as the researchers not having access to the subjects’ blood pressure during middle age. Blood pressure data in later life was also recorded only once yearly, not frequently.

James Hendrix, the director of global science initiatives at the Alzheimer’s Association, called it a strong study in an AP report, as autopsy data has served as the gold standard for making Alzheimer’s diagnosis for so many years.

The findings were detailed in the journal Neurology.

Another study on older people found that being “skinny fat” in this time of life could actually increase the risk of developing dementia.

Humans naturally lose body tissue during a process called sarcopenia. A mix of low muscle mass and high body fat, which is called skinny fat or sarcopenic obesity, is known among experts to forecast poor mental health down the road.

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