Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) isn’t dementia…but for approximately one out of five people who has it, dementia is the inevitable result. Exciting new research now finds that a treatment that protects your brain from stroke may also help avert MCI…and perhaps dementia down the road.

MCI is age-related cognitive decline in memory, language, thinking and judgment that is more than normal aging but not as serious as actual dementia. It has long been known that high blood pressure, a prime risk factor for stroke, is linked to memory loss. It is thought that high blood pressure may damage tiny blood vessels in the brain, which leads to inflammation, a prime factor in both MCI and dementia.

Researchers from the National Institutes of Health SPRINT Research Group looked at whether intensively treating high blood pressure would reduce the risk for both MCI and dementia. They conducted a randomized, controlled trial of more than 9,000 adults age 50 or older who had no history of stroke or diabetes and had high blood pressure (systolic: 130 to 180…140 average).

Half the participants received drugs to lower their blood pressure with a target of systolic below 140 (standard treatment). The other half were treated to lower their blood pressure to a target systolic below 120 (intensive treatment). Both groups were treated for three and a half years and followed for about five years…and were tested for evidence of MCI and probable dementia before, during and at the end of the study.

Results: Participants in the standard group maintained an average systolic blood pressure of about 135…while the intensive group maintained an average systolic pressure of about 122. Compared with the standard treatment group, participants who got intensive treatment had a statistically significant 19% lower risk for MCI. The intensive group also had a 17% lower risk for dementia—a result that is not considered statistically significant and could still be from chance.

According to the researchers, as well as other experts in the field, these results are impressive! In fact, the Alzheimer’s Association has sponsored a continuation of the study for another round of cognitive testing at eight years, since it can take additional years for dementia to develop.

While more research is needed to determine the best practical application of these results, if you’re older than age 50 and are being treated for high blood pressure it makes sense to discuss with your doctor whether your blood pressure is controlled enough. And if you and your doctor agree that it is not and more treatment might be a good idea, be sure to discuss both the benefits and the risks.

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