Researchers discovered that high blood pressure can cause dementia by damaging parts of the brain.
For the first time, scientists identified the areas of the organ that, when impaired, can lead to the memory-robbing condition.
They used MRI scans to see how high blood pressure affected areas of the brain thought to be responsible for memory and cognition.
Follow-up tests on hypertensive Italian patients confirmed that these areas had a direct impact on whether they would develop dementia.
According to the researchers, the discovery paves the way for new preventative treatments for the condition.
“We hope that our findings will help us develop new ways to treat cognitive impairment in people with high blood pressure,” said Tomasz Guzik of the University of Edinburgh.
“By examining these specific brain regions, we may be able to predict who will develop memory loss and dementia more quickly in the context of high blood pressure.”
He believes this will aid researchers in developing “precision medicine” for the most vulnerable patients.
One in every three Britons has high blood pressure, and over 850,000 have dementia.
Previous research has found that hypertension increases the risk of developing the condition, particularly vascular dementia, which is caused by poor blood flow to the brain.
The most recent study, published in the European Heart Journal, analysed brain scans from over 30,000 British people.
Using genetic data, they investigated whether blood pressure was the cause of changes in specific areas of the brain.
They discovered that changes in nine areas of the brain were linked to higher blood pressure and poor cognitive function.
A round structure at the base of the front of the brain was responsible for regulating movement and influencing different types of learning.
“Our study has identified specific places in the brain that are potentially causally associated with high blood pressure and cognitive impairment,” said Dr Mateusz Siedlinski of Jagiellonian University Medical College.