By Erik Derr ( | First Posted: Mar 19, 2013 06:09 AM EDT

(Photo : Creative Commons/Erik Derr)

High blood pressure, a new study suggests, promotes the onset of Alzheimer's disease, the degenerative disorder that attacks the brain's nerve cells and results in loss of memory, thinking and language skills, and often causes significant behavioral changes.

The research, published in the March 18 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association's Neurology, found people who have high blood pressure and carry a genetic risk for Alzheimer's may suffer the increase development of brain plaque, abnormal clusters of protein fragments build up between nerve cells and telltale sign of the debilitating disorder.

So, people have yet another strong reason for controlling high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, the study researchers said.

"Maintaining good vascular health by avoiding or controlling diseases like hypertension has important benefits beyond keeping your heart healthy," said team leader Karen Rodrigue, an assistant professor of behavioral and brain sciences at the University of Texas at Dallas. It may promote good brain health as we age --- limit or delay the brain changes associated with Alzheimer's disease and other aging-related neurological deterioration."

There is so far no known cure for Alzheimer's, which experts says will affect upwards of 14 million Americans by 2050 if no progress in treating the condition is made.

The study, which examined 118 adults between 47 and 89 years of age with normal brain functions, was welcomed as "good news" by Sam Gandy, associate director of the Mount Sinai Alzheimer's Disease Research Center in New York City, who spoke with Health Day.

"This means that yet another simple intervention -- here, blood pressure control, but think also of physical exercise -- can have an important impact on dementia risk and rate of progression," Gandy said. "We must not overlook these simple effective interventions while developing new therapies."

The research project divided the test subjects into those with high blood pressure and those without high blood pressure and those with and without the genetic risk factor for Alzheimer's. The participants were given brain scans to search for plaques.

The researchers found people with both high blood pressure and the genetic risk factor had significantly more brain plaque than those with only one or neither of the risk factors.

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