• Dementia affects a sizeable number of the elderly
  • New study found many of them experienced "wooziness" when they stand up
  • That drop in blood pressure heightens the risk of dementia

Researchers say a sudden drop in your blood pressure when standing up, which causes you to feel woozy, is a possible dementia risk factor.

Orthostatic hypotension, or that feeling of wooziness when standing up, happens when blood pressure suddenly drops when you stand. A new study conducted by the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) researchers suggests this may be a sign of a heightened risk of developing dementia.

The researchers found a link between orthostatic hypotension and the onset of the neurodegenerative condition with a 15 mm Hg drop in systolic blood pressure, while diastolic blood pressure or overall blood pressure remains the same. This finding suggests that some people should observe their blood pressure when they shift from a sitting to a standing position, US News & World Report revealed.

orthostatic hypotension and dementia
Representational image Quinn Kampschroer - Pixabay

"It's possible that controlling these blood pressure drops could be a promising way to help preserve people's thinking and memory skills as they age," said UCSF researcher Dr. Laure Rouch in a statement at an American Academy of Neurology news release. Rouch warned that their study does not prove that orthostatic hypotension leads to dementia, but rather, it shows there is a link between the two conditions.

The research team studied the medical history of over 2,100 people with an average age of 73 years and did not suffer from dementia at the commencement of the study. During the next 12 years, 22% of them developed the neurodegenerative condition. Researchers also found that those experiencing systolic orthostatic hypotension were almost 40% likely to develop dementia compared to those who did not experience the "woozy" condition.

According to the study, 26% of the participants who experience systolic orthostatic hypotension developed dementia. After considering health factors like alcohol use, smoking and diabetes, those experiencing feelings of wooziness when standing up saw their dementia risk increase to 37%, researchers said. The study also showed that among the participants who have systolic orthostatic hypotension, 24% of them who had the greatest fluctuations developed dementia compared with 19% who only had minimal fluctuations. The research team published their study and findings in the journal Neurology.

There are some theories as to how the woozy feeling upon standing affects the odds of developing dementia in the future. "The mechanism of this association is unknown, but it is reasonable to suspect that multiple low blood pressure 'insults' to the brain could cause cumulative damage," said cardiologist Dr. Guy Mintz, cardiovascular health director at the Northwell Health's Sandra Atlas Bass Heart Hospital in New York.

Dr. Mintz, who did not take part in the study, said that physicians need to be aware of this link as this is an opportunity for them to help elderly patients who are taking several hypertensive drugs that can cause changes in the systolic pressure with the shifting of positions. Elderly patients are oftentimes on multiple medications to help them manage blood pressure and the simple positional shift from sitting down to standing up can help identify those who are at a greater risk for dementia. This will allow physicians to fine-tune the medications prescribed to these patients.