This month’s science update continues our focus on healthy hearts and healthy minds by taking a look at some studies on the heart-brain connection:
Elevated Pulse Pressure and Alzheimer’s Risk: New Findings
What: A recent study found that folks with elevated pulse pressure had changes in levels of biomarkers associated with Alzheimer’s disease compared to others with normal pulse pressure. The findings, published in JAMA Neurology, showed significant changes in levels of beta-amyloid and p-tau protein levels in the cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) of middle-aged, cognitively normal adults with higher pulse pressure. However, the finding did not hold for those subjects with pulse pressure in the older age group studied.
Why This Matters: Pulse pressure (systolic – diastolic blood pressure) has long been associated with increased risk for dementia. This study is one of the first to demonstrate a possible mechanism for why that is, as the changes in biomarkers may be a sign of cell damage early in the disease process. The fact that these changes were most prominent in the middle-aged folks in this sample underscores this fact.
The Takeaway: This study gives us yet another reason to control our blood pressure, and start familiarizing ourselves with our pulse pressure number (found by subtracting the lower or second number in your blood pressure from the higher or first number). If it is over 60, consider reducing sodium or taking folic acid (check the dose with your doctor, usually 5 mg a day), which has been shown to reduce blood pressure safely. You can also try getting more regular aerobic activity or mindfulness exercises.
Blood Pressure Medications May Increase Falls in the Elderly
What: A study of approximately 5,000 adults over age 70 with hypertension found that those treated with hypertensive medications were more likely to experience serious fall injuries.
Why This Matters: While effective management of hypertension is critical to reducing stroke and other vascular injuries to the brain, injury from falling can in itself increase risk for head, hip and other injuries that may lead to higher rates of morbidity and mortality.
The Takeaway: This new finding suggests that older adults using hypertensive medications should be more careful about their fall risk. Simple steps such as learning to stand slowly (from a lying position, sitting first prior to standing, for example) and practicing simple balance exercises can help.