Study: Low blood pressure in older people could be linked to brain shrinkage, memory problems

(WJLA) - Sixty-nine-year-old Joyce Boyer has battled high blood pressure for years.

"I try my best to keep it under control," she says.

She says that can be tough, but she's trying.

"I would like to get back down to '120/70' or something like that, but I think those days are gone," she says.

According to a study just published in the journal "Neurology," though, it might actually be better for Boyer to keep her blood pressure a bit higher.

"Making everybody '120/80' isn't the right way to go," explains Dr. Ejaz Shamin, a neurologist.

Shamin is the chief of neurology at Kaiser Permanente's Largo medical center.

He says higher blood pressure is associated with an increased risk for brain lesions that can impair memory and cognition - but this new study finds that, at older ages, the damage isn't just caused by high pressure.

"Brain damage can occur early on in life if you have uncontrolled blood pressure, or it can occur later on in life if your blood pressure is too low," he said. "That was something we didn't know before."

And this research shows the bottom number of your reading - the diastolic pressure - might matter more than you think.

"The lower that lower number is, the more problems you're going to have cognitively, and the more problems you're going to have with brain shrinking," he explained.

In fact, lower diastolic blood pressure later in life was associated with smaller brain volume, and 10-percent lower memory scores.

Angela Macklin says her medication took her blood pressure down to 90 over 60 at one point.

"I was just a slug," she recalls.

Her doctor quickly adjusted her medication, and her readings improved. Now, she's concerned that her blood pressure issues could harm her brain's ability later on.

"Hopefully that won't hurt me, but it could," Macklin said.