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Study links BP variability to dementia and heart risks

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Fluctuating BP can heighten older individuals’ risk of dementia and vascular issues, according to new Australian research.

The study by the University of South Australia (UniSA) researchers found associations between blood pressure (BP) variability over different timeframes, impaired cognition and artery stiffness.

Lead author Daria Gutteridge, a UniSA PhD candidate at the Cognitive Ageing and Impairment Neuroscience Laboratory (CAIN), explains that while high blood pressure is an established dementia risk factor, little attention has focused on blood pressure fluctuations.

“Blood pressure can fluctuate across different time frames – short and long – and this appears to heighten the risk of dementia and blood vessel health,” Gutteridge said.

To explore the mechanisms, the researchers analysed 70 healthy adults aged 60-80 without dementia or impairment. They measured blood pressure, cognitive performance and arterial stiffness.

“We found that higher blood pressure variability within a day, as well as across days, was linked with reduced cognitive performance,” Gutteridge said. “We also found that higher blood pressure variations within the systolic BP were linked with higher blood vessel stiffness in the arteries.”

These results suggest different types of blood pressure variability reflect different biological mechanisms. Both systolic and diastolic variability seem important for cognitive health in older individuals.

The study indicates blood pressure fluctuations could potentially serve as an early clinical marker or treatment target for spotting and averting cognitive decline.

Most clinical care concentrates on overall high blood pressure while overlooking variability. But these findings highlight the need to monitor patterns along with absolute blood pressure levels.

Detecting concerning fluctuations through frequent monitoring, even in adults without major impairment, could help identify those at heightened dementia and cardiovascular risk.

By shedding light on how blood pressure instability may damage the brain and arteries, the research underscores an urgent need to look beyond hypertension alone.

Tackling the risks of variability could lead to new prevention and treatment avenues for safeguarding brain and heart health in older populations.

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