April 13 (UPI) — Black people experience significantly faster declines in cognitive function than white people, perhaps because of higher blood pressure, a new analysis suggests.
Black people see faster drops in global cognition, a commonly used measure of brain function, and memory than white people as they age, according to an article published Monday by JAMA Neurology.
Researchers say these declines occurred because of higher blood pressure, and progress faster as blood pressure rises.
“African-Americans’ higher blood pressure levels appear to explain their faster cognitive decline in later-life compared with whites,” Dr. Deborah A. Levine, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School, told UPI. “Improved control of high blood pressure in African-Americans would narrow racial disparities in later-life cognitive decline.”
Roughly one in three adults in the United States have high blood pressure, according to the American Heart Association, but the numbers are even more stark among people of color. More than 40 percent of black men and nearly 50 percent of black women in the country have high blood pressure, according to American Heart Association figures.
“We do not fully understand why high blood pressure is higher and often more severe in African-Americans than other racial and ethnic groups,” Levine explained. “Some studies suggest that higher rates of obesity, diabetes, salt intake and poor socioeconomic status among African-Americans might play a role.”
For this study, the authors reviewed data on nearly 35,000 people collected as part of the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study, Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults Study, Cardiovascular Health Study, Framingham Offspring Study and Northern Manhattan Study. Among the study participants, 19,378 did not have a history of stroke or dementia at the start of the research, nearly 11,000, or 55 percent, were female and nearly 16,000, or 80 percent, were white.
The mean age of study participants at first cognitive assessment was nearly 60 years old.
Compared with white people, black people saw global cognition scores drop 0.03 points faster and memory scores decline 0.08 points faster each year, the authors found. Declines in global cognition and memory were 0.018 points and 0.028 points faster per year for each 10-mm Hg increase in blood pressure, they added.
“High blood pressure is modifiable,” Levine said. “African-Americans and people in other at-risk groups work with their doctors to diagnose, treat and control high blood pressure to mitigate their risk of later-life cognitive decline.”