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Clearly, hypertension alone doesn't doom someone to later dementia. Far more people, nearly one in three U.S. adults, have hypertension.
And there are plenty of other reasons to lower blood pressure: Hypertension is a leading cause of heart attacks, strokes and kidney failure.
But while some studies have found hypertension treatment lowered the dementia risk, others haven't.
Enter the NIH's SPRINT study, which in a few months is to begin enrolling 7,500 hypertension patients age 55 and older around the country. The test: Whether aggressive treatment to lower systolic blood pressure below 120 -- what's considered normal -- will prove healthier than today's guidelines that urge getting it below 140, or 130 for diabetics.
The main focus is on heart and kidney health. But all participants will be screened for dementia, and a subset will undergo repeated cognitive testing and MRI scans to tell if lowering blood pressure also protects against a slide toward dementia. Another question: If older patients can tolerate bigger than usual blood pressure drops without side effects, such as falls.
With dementia rising fast as the population grays, even a small effect from better blood pressure control could have a big public health impact, says Dr. William Thies of the Alzheimer's Association.
Other dementia-preventing efforts, such as targeting the sticky amyloid plaques in Alzheimer's patients brains, haven't panned out so far -- while hypertension control has little downside, notes Pittsburgh's Kuller.
"Until I can tell you how to get rid of amyloid in your brain, take care of the blood pressure."
Lauran Neergaard covers health and medical issues for The Associated Press in Washington.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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