How Blood Pressure Swings Have Been Linked to Faster Decline in Mental Skills

New research explores the dangers and risks of fluctuating blood pressures, not only on the heart, but also its negative consequences on the brain.

Blood pressure (BP) measures the force of blood against artery walls as the heart pumps it. Consistently high BP, also known as hypertension, can weaken and damage blood vessels, in turn increasing the risk of serious heart and health complications.

Blood pressure readings include both systolic and diastolic pressures:

Systolic pressure measures the pressure with each contraction of the heart, or heart beat, while diastolic pressure measures the pressure between each heart beat or pump. Blood pressure is read as systolic over diastolic (systolic/diastolic) with measurements written as millimeters of mercury (mm Hg).

 Blood Pressure Fluctuations Linked to Faster Mental Decline

Fluctuations in blood pressure may be linked to faster declines in thinking skills among seniors, countless evidence suggests.

A 2013 study published in the BMJ investigated the association between visit-to-visit variability in blood pressure and cognitive function in almost 5,500 participated over the age 70. Higher visit-to-visit variability in blood pressure independent of average blood pressure was associated with impaired cognitive function, including worse performance on all cognitive tests focusing on attention, processing speed, and immediate memory.

Furthermore, data published in the American Heart Association’s journal Hypertension found higher visit-to-visit variability in blood pressures was associated to faster decline of cognitive function and verbal memory, even independent of average blood pressure readings, among adults aged 55 to 64 years.

But the evidence continues.

Likewise, a 2017 study published in Circulation observed increased day-to-day blood pressure variability is, independently of average home blood pressure, a significant risk factor for the development of all-cause dementia, vascular dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease in the general elderly Japanese population.

Nonetheless, the data suggests higher long-term BP visit-to-visit variability is associated with a faster rate of cognitive decline among older adults and increased risk of dementia.

Researchers speculate that when blood pressure is high, blood vessel structure and function are compromised, subsequently hardening the arteries and diminishing adequate blood flow to all body parts including the brain.

But What Causes Blood Pressure to Fluctuate?

Blood pressure fluctuations can be caused by a number of factors:


Emotional stress and anxiety can cause blood pressure fluctuations in the moment. But if left unmanaged and overtime, excess stress can negatively impact the heart and lead to long-term hypertension.

Furthermore, heading to the doctor’s office can also cause blood pressure fluctuations. Also known as white-coat hypertension, the phenomenon occurs when individuals worry or stress about a doctor’s visit. Though the high blood pressure reading does not instantly issue a hypertension diagnosis, people with white-coat hypertension are more likely to develop high blood pressure.


Both over-the-counter and prescription medications can impact your blood pressure. Some medications, like diuretics and blood pressure pills, are designed to lower your blood pressure numbers. Others, like cold and allergy medications, can increase your blood pressure.


Too much salt, alcohol, and caffeine in the diet can cause blood pressures to read atypically. Overweight and obesity caused by a poor diet also increases the risk of high blood pressure.

Dehydration and alcohol consumption can also cause elevations in blood pressure.

Health Conditions

There are a number of health conditions that increase the risk of abnormal blood pressure readings, including diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, pregnancy, sleep apnea, and thyroid conditions. 

Managing Blood Pressures 

Adults 65 and older are encouraged to manage blood pressure to the new treatment standard of <130/80 mmHg, which varies from the past, as the systolic pressure had been <140 for people younger than 65 and <150 for people 65 and older. Individuals can help manage blood pressures by:

1. Monitoring Blood Pressures

Individuals should regularly monitor blood pressures to help identify not only high blood pressures, but fluctuations in their readings. The use of a home monitoring system also allows you and your healthcare providers to determine how effective current treatments are working and mitigate threatening health risks.

2. Implementing Lifestyle Changes

Consuming foods recommended in the DASH Diet, participating in regular exercise, quitting smoking, and practicing stress-reduction techniques can help control blood pressures and may reduce dementia risk. Losing weight is often a byproduct of making healthier lifestyle changes, which further lessens the risk of high blood pressure. 

Also by utilizing Silver Cuisine, seniors can receive heart healthy and low-sodium meal options directly to your doorstep! All meals fall at or below the American Heart Association’s (AHA) recommendations for calories, sodium, total fat and saturated fat, with less than 600 milligrams (mg) of sodium and 3.5 grams of saturated fat (all while still satisfying the taste buds)!

3. Taking Medications

If lifestyle changes are not controlling blood pressures, medications may be prescribed. Also be sure to follow-up with a primary care provider to verify the prescription’s effectiveness and continue scheduling routine visits.