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Oops, you did it again…forgot someone’s phone number, could not remember what you had for lunch yesterday, or for a moment maybe you were not able to recall your neighbor’s name. Simple signs, you chuckle to yourself, of growing older. You might even laugh out loud with family and friends about losing your memory now that you are enjoying your senior years. After all, some degree of short-term memory loss is a sign of aging. Right?
Well, actually you could be wrong. Studies regarding memory loss in seniors indicate that instead of being a sign of simply aging, short-term memory loss could be a symptom of the effects of hypertension or high blood pressure. Hypertension causes damage to blood vessels, resulting in plaque and other tissue buildup, which can break free and move with blood flow only to get trapped in smaller vessels. This blockage can cause clots that prevent blood filled with oxygen and nutrients from traveling to the area of the body it supplies. If clots or other blockage prevent oxygen from reaching cells in the brain responsible for memory, those cells die, inhibiting that function.
There are well-known conditions caused by hypertension such as stroke, aneurysm, heart and coronary artery disease. While the effects of these conditions can contribute to complications of decreased blood flow throughout the body, vital brain cell loss can occur without your enduring a stroke or another critical health event. The crucial connection that needs to be acknowledged here is that when brain cells governing memory die due to lack of blood flow – regardless of the cause – the result is potential damage to your brain.
Research indicates this loss of blood flow can cause other diseases to occur. Vascular dementia, one cause of dementia, may very well be caused by decreased or lack of blood flow to the brain. In fact, studies indicate that people who have hypertension in their middle-aged years are at increased risk for developing dementia as they age. Mild cognitive impairment, the shift in memory and comprehension that begins in the elderly and is also typical of complications of Alzheimer’s, can also be caused by the effects of arterial damage prohibiting blood flow.
Hypertension often goes undiagnosed for years, especially in people who do not have regular medical check ups. Memory loss due to hypertension alone is caused by detrimental elements that progress over time, decreasing or halting blood flow to parts of the brain that are critical to its proper function. Brain cells can slowly die due to lack of blood flow, causing a person to experience subtle changes in memory and other cognitive functions. For this reason, any changes in memory that occur as you or your senior family member transition into the golden years should not be ignored.
High blood pressure can be detected by a simple blood pressure check, which can often be performed at machines now available in local drug stores. If you suspect you or the senior loved one in your life may be at risk, it is well worth a trip to find out. Keep in mind, however, that while a trip to the store is more convenient than a visit to the doctor, it is still important to seek medical advice for proper diagnosis and treatment.
References: Mayo Clinic (2011). High blood pressure dangers: effects of hypertension on your body. Retrieved on December 10, 2011 from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/high-blood-pressure/HI00062. Kirchheimer, Sid (2003). Short-term memory slightly worse in those with hypertension. Retrieved on December 10, 2011 from http://www.webmd.com/hypertension-high-blood-pressure/news/20030923/high…. John Hopkins Medicine (2011). How does hypertension affect memory? Retrieved on December 10, 2011 from http://www.johnshopkinshealthalerts.com/alerts/hypertension_stroke/memory_hypertension_3838-1.html?ET=johnshopkins:e44738:1259471a:&st=email&s=ESH_110301_001