Information about Hypertension and Dementia Risk

Hypertension—commonly known as high blood pressure—is a risk factor for both Alzheimer's disease and vascular dementia. In fact, in one study, people with hypertension were more than twice as likely to develop vascular dementia as those with normal blood pressure. Research has also linked elevated blood pressure with some of the brain abnormalities seen in Alzheimer's disease, such as beta-amyloid plaques, neurofibrillary tangles, and shrinkage of the hippocampus.

In a large ongoing study called the Cache County Study, researchers found that the overall risk of developing Alzheimer's disease was 36 percent lower among elderly people who had used any type of blood pressure medication. For those who had taken a diuretic for their high blood pressure, the risk reduction was 43 percent; Alzheimer's risk plummeted 74 percent for people who had used a potassium-sparing diuretic.

Even in the absence of dementia, people with hypertension tend to perform worse on cognitive tests.

Recent national guidelines state that people should try to keep their blood pressure below 120/80 mm Hg. This can be accomplished with medication and various lifestyle modifications, including:

  • getting regular exercise
  • decreasing salt intake
  • not smoking
  • losing weight if overweight
  • drinking alcohol only in moderation
  • following a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy products and low in saturated fat and dietary cholesterol

Publication Review By: Peter V. Rabins, M.D., M.P.H.

Published: 07 Mar 2011

Last Modified: 10 Sep 2015