High Blood Pressure in Seniors: The Link to Memory Loss

Nearly one in five Canadians adults — about 4.6 million people between the ages of 20 and 79 — has high blood pressure according to Statistics Canada

Did you know that gradual decline in memory and cognitive function can be attributed to elevated blood pressure? While there is no precise cause of cognitive impairment, an early indication of dementia, research strongly suggests that high blood pressure can add to the risk.

The onset of damage may hardly be noticeable, but the end result is not: High blood pressure leads to stiffened arteries that eventually deprive brain tissue of proper nourishment. A study in Lancet Neurology concluded that vascular brain injury quietly develops over
a period of years, but comes on later in life with very noticeable effects. In fact, the brain can be prematurely aged by about seven years.

How High Blood Pressure Can Lead to Cognitive Decline in Canada’s Seniors

The brain has two layers. The cortex, an outer layer of gray matter, is filled with brain cells that play a key role in memory, attention, perception, language, and consciousness. An inner layer of white matter contains axons, the biological wires that carry information from one area of the brain to the other. Studies indicate that a reduction in blood flow caused by blood pressure is related to the plaque buildup in the arteries that damages nerve fibers in the white matter, and reduces the volume of gray matter.

These changes in the brain can result in cognitive impairment, beginning at age 50 or earlier. Cognitive impairment is a transition stage between the changes in understanding and memory that come with aging, and the more serious problems caused by Alzheimer’s disease. Like dementia, it can result from blocked blood flow to the brain when high blood pressure damages arteries.

In more severe cases, chronic high blood pressure can result in a series of small strokes that damage brain tissue. Over time, the damage caused by multiple little strokes can result in vascular dementia. Vascular dementia is the second most common type of dementia after Alzheimer’s disease, and produces symptoms that include confusion, wandering, and problems with short-term memory.

Early Treatment is Key for Seniors

Studies indicate that the longer a person lives with high blood pressure, the more likely he or she is to develop memory loss and have difficulty thinking. This means that people with high blood pressure need to be proactive about lowering their numbers ─ through lifestyle changes and/or medication ─ as early and consistently as possible. Studies have found that those who have good blood pressure in middle age or in the early senior years have considerably less risk of notable cognitive decline.

High Blood Pressure Prevention for Canada’s Seniors

A healthy blood pressure is under 120/80. Preventing blood pressure from moving beyond that and up into the unhealthy range in the first place is even better than treating high blood pressure. One’s lifestyle choices can make a huge difference.

Here are some ways to help prevent high blood pressure:

  • Stay a healthy weight
  • Eat a heart-healthy diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables
  • Monitor salt intake, most of which comes from processed foods
  • Exercise daily, or at least five times a week
  • Limit alcohol by consuming no more than one drink a day for women, and no more than two a day for men
  • Don’t smoke or use other tobacco products

Our caregivers, or Comfort Keepers®, can help keep a watchful eye on your loved one, and help incorporate healthier choices into his or her lifestyle. Our unique approach to personal care, Interactive Caregiving™, engages clients physically, emotionally, mentally and socially ─ and provides a system of care that addresses safety, nutrition, mind, body, and activities of daily living (ADLs).


  • Health After 50 with Scientific American. “Memory Loss: A Casualty of High Blood Pressure”. Web 2015.
  • Mayo Clinic. “High Blood Pressure Dangers: Hypertension’s Effects on Your Body”. Web. 2015.
  • Harvard Health Publications, Harvard Medical School. “High Blood Pressure in Midlife Linked to Later Decline in Memory, Thinking Skills”. Web. 2015.

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