Background: previous studies raised the possibility that adverse health effects associated with elevated blood pressure (BP) begin at prehypertension levels (BP = 120–139/80–89 mmHg), yet few studies have examined the effects of prehypertension on cognitive functioning.
Objective: to examine the relationship between BP categories and cognitive functions in middle-aged and older women.
Subjects and methods: two hundred and forty-seven women from the Women's Healthy Ageing Project had their BP measured twice, at mean ages 50 and 60 years. Tests of executive function, processing speed and verbal episodic memory were also administered at follow-up. Analyses of co-variance were performed to evaluate the associations between BP categories and cognitive performance.
Results: prehypertensive BP at age 50 years is a significant predictor of reduced processing speed and verbal episodic memory a decade later. Cross-sectional measurements at age 60 years showed that untreated hypertensive women performed significantly worse on verbal episodic memory compared with their prehypertensive peers.
Conclusion: hypertension is a modifiable cardiovascular risk factor, and our results suggest that reducing midlife BP, even at prehypertensive levels, may be an effective prevention strategy to reduce risk for subsequent cognitive decline in middle-aged and older women.