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UK Study Ties High Blood Pressure, Diabetes To Impaired Memory, Cognitive Function

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Sep 8, 2020

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Image Credit: Wikimedia

A new UK-based study has found that high blood pressure and diabetes can worsen cognitive function, impairing thinking and memory.

Published in Nature Communications yesterday, the study analyzed brain scans and medical data from 22,000 volunteers, enrolled in the UK Biobank project, aged between 44 to 73, and noted that degeneration of grey and white matter among those with diabetes and high blood pressure was at a greater scale than average for their age.

In a bid to “detect the negative effect of cardiovascular risk factors, such as raised blood pressure and diabetes, on cognitive function and brain structure in otherwise healthy people,” the study tested the volunteers’ short-term memory with a pair-matching task, and recorded their speed of mental processing by measuring reaction times. The study found that the individuals with diabetes and high blood pressure fared worse on these tests designed to measure their cognitive abilities. The link between higher systolic blood pressure and worse cognitive function was found to be the highest amongst those aged 44 to 69.


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“The major implication is that these risk factors don’t just have an influence on what happens later in life — the risk of developing dementia — they also have an impact on the brain and current levels of cognitive function in mid-life,” Masud Husain, a professor of neurology and cognitive neuroscience at the Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences at Oxford University, who was involved in the study, told The Guardian.

In the past, studies have suggested that high blood pressure in mid-life can increase the risk of dementia later on. In terms of diabetes, a study with a smaller sample size, and people above the age 50, had found that people with diabetes suffer greater cognitive decline with age, than people with normal blood sugar control — another study, too, recorded similar findings. The present study, however, suggests like conditions like diabetes, and high blood pressure, can affect the brain much before more severe cognitive decline sets in. The researchers believe that this has important implications for public health, too — because doctors don’t often treat mildly raised blood pressure, which according to Husain, could be a missed opportunity.

“For blood pressure, every millimetre of pressure in your arteries counts, even in people who aren’t on any treatment. The higher the pressure, the worse it is… It is not surprising that if this is allowed to continue untreated for decades, it might have a cumulative impact on brain structure and function, eventually making it vulnerable to dementia,” Husain added.

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Written By Devrupa Rakshit

Devrupa Rakshit is an associate editor with The Swaddle. She is a lawyer by education, a poet by accident, and a painter by shaukh. She has her own podcast called #DateNightsWithD on Spotify. You can find her on Instagram @devruparakshit.

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