Chronically high blood pressure can cause a decline in some mental processes, but it doesn't appear to accelerate the deficits that come with natural aging.
Researchers at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C., divided 96 volunteers into two groups: 48 had either high-normal blood pressure (called prehypertension) or high blood pressure, and 48 had normal blood pressure. Those groups were further divided by age, and the participants were given computerized tests of perception and short-term memory.
The generalized slowing of information processing that occurred with aging didn't become worse in those with high blood pressure, the researchers found.
Although the effect of high blood pressure on cognitive performance was greatest in middle-aged people, such changes are unlikely to interfere with day-to-day life.
The most important finding is that some effects on cognition are independent of those of age, says lead author David Madden, a professor of medical psychology at Duke. "This leads us to think of normal healthy aging as something other than a collection of subtle disease processes."
The study was published in the September issue of Aging, Neuropsychology and Cognition.
Dianne Partie Lange