Many assume the first signs of cognitive decline will appear when they notice they begin to forget important details or mix up specific dates or facts. In reality, many everyday actions can potentially serve as warning signs the neurodegenerative disease is developing, including how you’re handling your finances and what your driving habits are. But according to a study, even something as simple as how you feel when you stand up from your seat can be an early sign of dementia if you notice this one thing. Read on to see what could be a major red flag.
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Feeling dizzy or lightheaded when you stand up may be an early sign of dementia.
A study published in the journal Neurology in October 2020 set out to explore the possible connection between dementia and orthostatic hypotension, which is a condition that causes people to feel dizzy or lightheaded when they stand up due to a sudden drop in blood pressure.
To test this, researchers examined 2,131 older patients with an average age of 73 to find that 15 percent had some form of low blood pressure. Specifically, results found that nine percent of participants had systolic orthostatic hypotension—which refers to the top or first number in a reading that measures the pressure each heartbeat applies to artery walls—while six percent had diastolic orthostatic hypotension.
The patients were then monitored for 12 years for any cognitive decline or memory loss. Ultimately, 462 of the participants—or roughly 22 percent—ended up developing dementia, including 50 of the 192 patients that had been diagnosed with systolic orthostatic hypotension. After adjusting for dementia risks such as diabetes, smoking, and alcohol use, this made the patients 37 percent more likely to develop the degenerative disease than those without low blood pressure. Meanwhile, there was no increased risk found to be associated with those diagnosed with diastolic orthostatic hypotension.
Patients whose blood pressure changed the most over time were at even higher risk for dementia.
But it wasn’t just the initial diagnosis or reading that showed a higher risk of dementia. The researchers also divided the participants into groups based on how much their blood pressure readings changed throughout the study. They found that 24 percent of patients in the group with the most changes in systolic blood pressure later developed dementia, compared to 19 percent of patients with less change over time. When adjusted for risk factors, the group with more change was 35 percent more likely to develop dementia than those with less change.
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Researchers say monitoring a change in blood pressure when standing could help prevent dementia.
The study’s authors conceded that the study was only observational and couldn’t establish a cause and effect between dizzy spells while standing and developing dementia. They also noted that there was no distinction in diagnoses between Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia. But they concluded that their findings could provide a valuable tool for monitoring the disease, assessing risk, and ultimately preventing the disease from taking hold.
“People’s blood pressure when they move from sitting to standing should be monitored,” Laure Rouch, PhD, the study’s author from the University of California, San Francisco, said in a press release. “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.”
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Other studies have also found a link between feeling dizzy while standing and dementia.
This wasn’t the first study to establish a link between feeling dizzy when you stand and developing dementia. In a 2016 study, a team of researchers from Erasmus Medical Center in the Netherlands followed roughly 6,000 participants for an average of 15 years. Their results found that those who had repeated episodes of low blood pressure and feeling dizzy while standing were more likely to develop dementia later on.
“Even though the effect can be seen as subtle—with an increased risk of about 4 percent for people with postural hypotension compared to those without it—so many people suffer from postural hypotension as they get older that it could have a significant impact on the burden of dementia across the world,” M. Arfan Ikram, MD, PhD, told the BBC in 2016.
“If people experience frequent episodes of dizziness on standing, particularly as they get older, they should see their GPs for advice,” he added.
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