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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Northwestern: Study on Blood Pressure, Mobility and Cognition in Midlife

The effects of high blood pressure are not just a snapshot in time, according to a new study published in Circulation, which found that cumulative exposure to high blood pressure during young adulthood — even below levels that warrant a diagnosis of hypertension — is associated with impaired gait and cognitive function during midlife.

“The impact of blood pressure on the brain is a function of how much, how long and when,” said Dr. Farzaneh Sorond, chief of Stroke and Neurocritical Care in the Ken and Ruth Davee Department of Neurology and senior author of the study. “You don’t need to be hypertensive by our current diagnostic criteria or on blood pressure medication to see the effect of higher blood pressure on your brain.”

The association between high blood pressure and impaired cognitive function in the elderly population has been known for some time, but disentangling the individual impact of other conditions like stroke, hemorrhage or Alzheimer’s disease in late life is a difficult task, according to Dr. Sorond, who is also the associate dean for faculty development.

In an attempt to learn more about the specific impact of blood pressure exposure on cognitive function, the investigators analyzed 30 years of clinical data from nearly 200 mid-life individuals from the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults study. Instead of looking at older adults who may have other conditions, Dr. Sorond and her collaborators examined adults in midlife — a relatively cleaner slate.

They found that exposures to higher levels of blood pressure during young adulthood had a strong association with impaired gait and cognition during midlife.

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