Can blood pressure drugs help reduce dementia risk?

A large new study has found a link between taking various kinds of blood pressure-lowering drugs and a lower risk of dementia among older adults, adding to the discussion around the link between cognitive decline and high blood pressure.
older bespectacled woman sitting in an armchair
People who take blood pressure-lowering medication may have a lower risk of dementia.

Dementia is an umbrella-term for various neurodegenerative conditions, the most widespread of which is Alzheimer’s disease.

The main characteristic of dementia is progressive cognitive decline, wherein a person experiences memory loss and a decline in their thinking and decision-making abilities.

Researchers are still uncertain as to what causes dementia, but in an effort to improve prevention strategies, they have been studying the potential risk factors that may contribute to the development of this condition.

Many recent studies have linked hypertension with a higher risk of dementia. For instance, a paper that appeared in the journal Neurology last year found that hypertension is tied to a higher risk of experiencing brain lesions, which are, in turn, tied to dementia.

Now, a large study that used data from the Disease Analyzer database — which is a large German database that collects and stores the health information of millions of people — shows that among older adults who follow antihypertensive treatments, there is a lower incidence of dementia.

The researchers hail from the University of Leipzig in Germany, the University of Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines in France, and the Frankfurt, Germany branch of IQVIA. IQVIA is a multinational company that provides consultancy regarding health information technology and clinical research. They also run the Disease Analyzer databse.

“After another setback for the anti-amyloid strategy, dementia prevention is increasingly becoming an area of interest,” notes study co-author Dr. Jens Bohlken, from the University of Leipzig.

In view of this, our most important task is to find existing therapies that are associated with a reduction in dementia risk or at least an extension of the time to dementia onset.”

Dr. Jens Bohlken

The drugs tied to lower dementia incidence

In their study — the findings of which now appear in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease — the researchers analyzed data from 12,405 people, aged 60 or over, with dementia who attended one of 739 general practices in Germany as patients in 2013–2017.

The team had access to all of these participants’ blood pressure values, as well as their medication records.

Also, they compared these data with those of 12,405 participants without dementia who had visited a general practice in the same time period.

The researchers considered three models in their analysis of the data:

  • people who had taken antihypertensive medication at some point in their lives compared with people who had never taken antihypertensive drugs
  • people who had followed an antihypertensive therapy for 3 years compared with people who had done so for under 3 years
  • people who had followed such a therapy for 5 years compared with people who had taken antihypertensive drugs for under 5 years

The team found that those who took certain antihypertensive drugs — including beta-blockers, calcium channel blockers, angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors, and angiotensin II receptor blockers — seemed to have a lower risk of dementia.

Moreover, among those who took calcium channel blockers — which are another type of blood pressure drug — for a longer period of time, the incidence of dementia also decreased.

Despite these results, study co-author Prof. Karel Kostev warns that “[a]ntihypertensive therapy alone cannot guarantee that dementia will never occur.”

“However,” he adds, “these findings highlight the importance of the prescription of antihypertensive drugs in the context of preventing hypertension-associated cognitive decline.”

The study authors explain that further studies should aim to look in more detail at the relationship between dementia risk and antihypertensive medication.

Also, they note that they “plan to investigate the role of lipid-lowering drugs, antidepressants, and further medications in the future.”