There’s a saying, “What’s good for your heart is good for your brain.” Evidence supports preventing or controlling cardiovascular conditions such as high blood pressure to protect brain health as adults grow into old age.
One in three American adults has high blood pressure, putting them at risk for heart disease and stroke, conditions that are among the leading U.S. killers. High blood pressure (also called hypertension) can also impact brain health in significant ways. That’s reason enough to check blood pressure regularly and treat it if it’s high, experts say.
How blood pressure affects cognition—the ability to think, remember, and reason—is less well understood. Observational studies show that having high blood pressure in midlife—the 40s to early 60s—increases the risk of cognitive decline later in life. In old age, the impact of hypertension is not so clear.
At first glance, the connection between blood pressure and the brain makes perfect sense. While only about 2 percent of body weight, the brain receives 20 percent of the body’s blood supply. Its vast network of blood vessels carries oxygen, glucose, and other nutrients to brain cells, providing the energy the brain needs to function properly.
The blood flow that keeps the brain healthy can, if reduced or blocked, harm this essential organ. Exactly how high blood pressure contributes to vascular brain damage, and how vascular and dementia-related brain processes may interact biologically, is under study.
High blood pressure is common, affecting one-third of American adults and nearly two-thirds of adults age 60 and older. Many people don’t know they have “the silent killer” because it has no symptoms. Only about half of people with high blood pressure, including those who treat it with medication, have it under control.
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