Fluctuating blood pressure can be a harbinger for both dementia and heart disease, a new study finds.

Ups and downs within 24 hours or even over several days or weeks were linked with impaired thinking, researchers from Australia reported.

Higher variations in systolic blood pressure, the top number, were linked with stiffening of the arteries, which is associated with heart disease.

“Clinical treatments focus on hypertension, while ignoring the variability of blood pressure,” said lead author Daria Gutteridge, a PhD candidate at the University of South Australia’s Cognitive Aging and Impairment Neuroscience Laboratory.

“Blood pressure can fluctuate across different time frames — short and long — and this appears to heighten the risk of dementia and blood vessel health,” Gutteridge said in a university news release.

Researchers studied this in 70 healthy older adults aged 60 to 80 who had no signs of dementia or thinking impairment. The team monitored participants’ blood pressure, gave them a cognitive test and measured arterial stiffness in their brains and arteries.

“We found that higher blood pressure variability within a day, as well as across days, was linked with reduced cognitive performance. We also found that higher blood pressure variations within the systolic BP [blood pressure] were linked with higher blood vessel stiffness in the arteries,” Gutteridge said.

“These results indicate that the different types of BP variability likely reflect different underlying biological mechanisms, and that systolic and diastolic blood pressure variation are both important for cognitive functioning in older adults,” she said.

Blood pressure variability could potentially serve as an early clinical marker or treatment target for thinking impairment, the researchers added.

The findings were published recently in the journal Cerebral Circulation – Cognition and Behavior.

More information

The American Heart Association has more on blood pressure.

SOURCE: University of South Australia, news release, Oct. 16, 2023