Better blood pressure control may lead to better brain health

Created date

December 30th, 2019
A doctor checks an older woman's blood pressure.

A doctor checks an older woman's blood pressure.

A recent study published in the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation shows that more aggressive control of daily blood pressure in older adults can improve brain health.

Previous research shows that damage to the brain may be associated with the appearance of bright white lesions on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Increased amounts of these lesions have been linked to cognitive decline, increased risk for falls, slower walking speed, and increased stroke risk.

It is estimated that about two-thirds of people over 75 years of age may have these bright white lesions.

Tracking white matter buildup

As part of the INFINITY (“Intensive Versus Standard Ambulatory Blood Pressure Lowering to Prevent Functional Decline In the Elderly”) study, researchers from the University of Connecticut tracked study subjects’ mobility, cognitive function, and the appearance of white matter in the brain. They also tracked any adverse medical events. 

About 200 study subjects 75 years of age and older were followed for three years. During that time period, the researchers did not observe a significant difference in cognitive outcomes or walking speeds between the two groups; however, there was a significant reduction in the buildup of white matter in the brains of the subjects who received intensive blood pressure control. In fact, the accumulation of white matter was reduced by up to 40%.

In addition, the intensive-therapy group had a lower rate of heart attacks, strokes, and heart failure-related hospitalizations than the standard therapy group.  

The researchers say that their results show that maintaining a systolic blood pressure lower than 130 mmHg is a safe and potentially beneficial treatment goal in older adults and that it may conserve brain health.