Higher Blood Pressure Has Links to Brain Lesions in Older Adults

In a longitudinal study, researchers find that elderly people with higher pressure were more likely to show signs of Alzheimer’s disease in brain tissue.

Sukanya Charuchandra
Jul 13, 2018

Older individuals with high blood pressure are more likely to have brain lesions than those without high blood pressure and may also have protein tangles, a sign of Alzheimer’s disease, according to a study published in Neurology on July 11.

Coauthor Zoe Arvanitakis, a neurologist at Rush University Medical Center, says these “preliminary data” need further exploration, according to the Associated Press. “We can’t be alarmist,” she says.

According to a statement, the researchers were keen to learn if blood pressure had links to signs of brain aging. They tracked 1,288 people who were over the age of 65 until their deaths, an average of eight years. The scientists measured the blood pressure of the subjects once every year and examined their brains postmortem. 

Of the total number of subjects, two-thirds of the subjects had high blood pressure, while about half had one or more brain infarcts, necrotic regions caused by a loss of blood flow. With higher blood pressure, the risk of brain lesions went up: people with an upper blood pressure of 147 (normal being 120) had a 46 percent higher chance of having one or more lesions. Additionally, those with high pressure were more likely to have protein tangles in their brains. 

While the paper has “good information,” it also raises many questions, Ajay Misra, a neurologist at New York University Winthrop Hospital who was not involved in this research, tells Health Day. For instance, is higher blood pressure better in some situations? The researchers found that elderly subjects with lower blood pressure had a greater risk of stroke. Misra suggests the higher pressure may be required to keep blood vessels of older adults clear. He adds that a one-size-fits-all blood-pressure guideline may not be appropriate.

“The study further supports treatment of blood pressure in late life to prevent cerebrovascular disease,” Joe Verghese, a professor of neurology and medicine at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine who was not involved in his study, tells CNN. “The story regarding Alzheimer risk is less clear,” he adds. However, previous research has shown similar links between blood pressure and dementia, according to CNN.