Dementia risk increased in 50-year-olds with blood pressure below hypertension threshold

New findings from the long-running Whitehall II study of over 10,000 civil servants has found 50-year-olds who had blood pressure that was higher than normal but still below the threshold commonly used when deciding to treat the condition, were at increased risk of developing dementia in later life.

This increased risk was seen even when the study participants did not have other heart or blood vessel-related problems, according to the research, which is published in the European Heart Journal [1] today (Wednesday).

Although there have been previous studies that have linked raised blood pressure in midlife to an increased risk of dementia in later life, the term ‘midlife’ has been poorly defined and ranged from 35 to 68 years.

The first author of the paper, Dr Jessica Abell, post-doctoral research fellow at the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research in Paris (INSERM) and a research associate in dementia and epidemiology at University College London (UCL), UK, said: “Previous research has not been able to test the link between raised blood pressure and dementia directly by examining the timing in sufficient detail. In our paper we were able to examine the association at age 50, 60 and 70, and we found different patterns of association. This will have important implications for policy guidelines, which currently only use the generic term ‘midlife’.”

Participants in the Whitehall II study, who were aged between 35-55 in 1985, had their blood pressure measured in 1985, 1991, 1997 and 2003. Other medical information was also taken, such as age, sex, lifestyle behaviours (such as smoking and alcohol intake), and socio-demographic factors.

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