Study: High Blood Pressure May Accelerate Cognitive Decline


High blood pressure appears to accelerate a decline in cognitive performance in middle-aged and older adults, according to new research.

Blood Pressure

High blood pressure appears to accelerate a decline in cognitive performance in middle-aged and older adults, according to new research.

Published in Hypertension, results of the study showed that systolic blood pressure between 121 and 139 mmHg or diastolic blood pressure between 81 and 89 mmHg with no antihypertensive medication use was associated with accelerated cognitive performance decline among middle-aged and older individuals.1

The speed of cognitive decline happened regardless of hypertension duration. As a result, “high blood pressure for any length of time, even a short duration, might impact a person’s speed of cognitive decline,” the American Heart Association said in a news release.2

“We initially anticipated that the negative effects of hypertension on cognitive function would be more critical when hypertension started at a younger age. However, our results show similar accelerated cognitive performance decline whether hypertension started in middle age or at older ages,” said study author Sandhi M. Barreto, MD, MSc, PhD, professor of medicine at the Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.

“We also found that effectively treating high blood pressure at any age in adulthood could reduce or prevent this acceleration. Collectively, the findings suggest hypertension needs to be prevented, diagnosed, and effectively treated in adults of any age to preserve cognitive function,” Barreto added.

Barreto and colleagues analyzed findings from an existing study that included blood pressure and cognitive health information for more than 7000 adults in Brazil who were around 59 years old on average at the start of the study. They were followed for an average of nearly 4 years.

Testing included analysis of memory, verbal fluency, and executive function—which includes attention, concentration, and other factors associated with thinking and reasoning.

The researchers reported that adults with uncontrolled hypertension experienced notably faster declines in memory and global cognitive function than adults who had controlled hypertension.

“In addition to other proven benefits of blood pressure control, our results highlight the importance of diagnosing and controlling hypertension in patients of any age to prevent or slow down cognitive decline,” Barreto said. “Our results also reinforce the need to maintain lower blood pressure levels throughout life, since even prehypertension levels were associated with cognitive decline.”

The Brazilian Ministry of Health, the Brazilian Ministry of Science and Technology, and the Brazilian Coordination for the Improvement of Higher Education Personnel funded the study.


1. Teles de Menezes S, Giatti L, Campos L, et al. Association with decline in cognitive performance in the ELSA-Brasil cohort. Hypertension. December 2020.

2. High blood pressure at any age, no matter how long you have it, may speed cognitive decline. News release. American Heart Association; December 14, 2020. Accessed January 18, 2020.

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