There is no convincing evidence from randomized controlled trials that blood pressure lowering in late life prevents the development of cognitive impairment and dementia in patients without apparent prior cerebrovascular disease.

Hypertension and cognitive impairment are prevalent in older people. We found four trials suitable for analysing the effectiveness of blood pressure lowering for preventing development of cognitive impairment and dementia. However, for several reasons, including the differing methodologies of the trials, the number of drop-outs from the trials, and active treatment of subjects in the control groups, we were unable to assess definitively the effectiveness of antihypertensive treatments for preventing cognitive impairment and dementia in people with no evidence of previous cerebrovascular disease.

Authors' conclusions: 

There is no convincing evidence from the trials identified that blood pressure lowering in late-life prevents the development of dementia or cognitive impairment in hypertensive patients with no apparent prior cerebrovascular disease. There were significant problems identified with analysing the data, however, due to the number of patients lost to follow-up and the number of placebo patients who received active treatment. This introduced bias. More robust results may be obtained by conducting a meta-analysis using individual patient data.

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This is an update of a previous review (McGuinness 2006).

Hypertension and cognitive impairment are prevalent in older people. Hypertension is a direct risk factor for vascular dementia (VaD) and recent studies have suggested hypertension impacts upon prevalence of Alzheimer's disease (AD). Therefore does treatment of hypertension prevent cognitive decline?


To assess the effects of blood pressure lowering treatments for the prevention of dementia and cognitive decline in patients with hypertension but no history of cerebrovascular disease.

Search strategy: 

The Specialized Register of the Cochrane Dementia and Cognitive Improvement Group, The Cochrane Library, MEDLINE, EMBASE, PsycINFO, CINAHL, LILACS as well as many trials databases and grey literature sources were searched on 13 February 2008 using the terms: hypertens$ OR anti-hypertens$.

Selection criteria: 

Randomized, double-blind, placebo controlled trials in which pharmacological or non-pharmacological interventions to lower blood pressure were given for at least six months.

Data collection and analysis: 

Two independent reviewers assessed trial quality and extracted data. The following outcomes were assessed: incidence of dementia, cognitive change from baseline, blood pressure level, incidence and severity of side effects and quality of life.

Main results: 

Four trials including 15,936 hypertensive subjects were identified. Average age was 75.4 years. Mean blood pressure at entry across the studies was 171/86 mmHg. The combined result of the four trials reporting incidence of dementia indicated no significant difference between treatment and placebo (236/7767 versus 259/7660, Odds Ratio (OR) = 0.89, 95% CI 0.74, 1.07) and there was considerable heterogeneity between the trials. The combined results from the three trials reporting change in Mini Mental State Examination (MMSE) did not indicate a benefit from treatment (Weighted Mean Difference (WMD) = 0.42, 95% CI 0.30, 0.53). Both systolic and diastolic blood pressure levels were reduced significantly in the three trials assessing this outcome (WMD = -10.22, 95% CI -10.78, -9.66 for systolic blood pressure, WMD = -4.28, 95% CI -4.58, -3.98 for diastolic blood pressure).
Three trials reported adverse effects requiring discontinuation of treatment and the combined results indicated no significant difference (OR = 1.01, 95% CI 0.92, 1.11). When analysed separately, however, more patients on placebo in Syst Eur 1997 were likely to discontinue treatment due to side effects; the converse was true in SHEP 1991. Quality of life data could not be analysed in the four studies.
Analysis of the included studies in this review was problematic as many of the control subjects received antihypertensive treatment because their blood pressures exceeded pre-set values. In most cases the study became a comparison between the study drug against a usual antihypertensive regimen.