Can't think clearly? It could be your blood pressure

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Can't think clearly? It could be your blood pressure

Key points:
  • Spikes in blood pressure due to stress appear to cause problems with cognitive reasoning in older people
  • People with pre-existing high blood pressure suffered a decline in cognitive functioning when put under stress
  • People with normal or low blood pressure did not suffer a decline, despite also having stress-induced spikes in blood pressure.

A study of 36 people aged 60-87 years has thrown light on why some people struggle to think clearly in stressful situations. The research, published in Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences, measured people’s blood pressure and cognitive functioning twice a day for 60 days.

The results showed that people whose average systolic (top number) blood pressure was 130 or higher suffered a significant loss of cognitive ability when their blood pressures jumped up due to mental stress. Yet those people with lower average blood pressure levels did not suffer any decline in their ability to think clearly, even though their blood pressures also spiked under pressure.

The researchers suggest that these findings show that high blood pressure may be partly responsible for people’s problems with thinking clearly in difficult situations.


Gamaldo AA, Weatherbee SR, Allaire JC. Exploring the within-person coupling of blood pressure and cognition in the elderly. Journal of Gerontology: Pyschological Sciences 15 December 2008.

Topics: Research, High Blood Pressure in the news, High blood pressure

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