The timing is critical, as over the next several decades huge numbers of aging Baby Boomers will develop Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia.
Besides sparing thousands of Americans needless suffering, "if you could reduce that number by 10 percent, your cost savings would be immense," said William Thies, chief medical and scientific officer for the Alzheimer's Association in Chicago.
Although experts have long suspected a link between high blood pressure and dementia, without trial data those suspicions inevitably remain hypotheses.
"What we do know is that there's an association between high blood pressure and a higher rate of dementia -- it's not a large increased risk but there is some increase," Fine said.
"A whole bunch of epidemiologic data says there's a link, and one trial actually showed that if you lowered people's blood pressure it decreased the amount of dementia," added Thies.
That particular trial used blood pressure drugs known as calcium-channel blockers, one in an extensive armamentarium of medications for the condition. Still, no one really knows why treating high blood pressure would lower the odds of dementia if, in fact, it really does.
"We'd really like to know the answer because it would give us our first confirmed pathway to modifying the amount of dementia by treating people with known agents," Thies said. "That would be very important."
The SPRINT trial will randomize participants -- all of whom have systolic blood pressure of 130 mm Hg or higher -- either to a group taking more intensive drug therapy (three or four medications) to try to get their blood pressure under 120, or a control group taking about two medications to maintain blood pressure at the currently recommended 140.
"We may discover lower blood pressure will not reduce the rate of dementia, but if the lower goal did reduce the rate of dementia
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