High Blood Pressure May Protect Some Frail Elderly

Frail, elderly people with high blood pressure may live longer than their peers with lower blood pressure, new research suggests.

In the study of 2,340 seniors, low blood pressure protected those who were healthier and more robust, but the same could not be said for their frail counterparts. In general, high blood pressure, or hypertension, is a major risk factor for heart attack and stroke.

Researchers used data from two yearly U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys. The new findings were published online in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Frailty and fragility was assessed via walking-speed tests. Study participants were asked to walk for about 20 feet at their normal pace. Those who walked less than 2.6 feet per second were “slower walkers.” Their faster-walking counterparts had lower rates of diabetes, heart disease and other health problems. A third group included participants who were unable to complete the walking test.

In this third group, those frail seniors with higher blood pressure levels were 62 percent less likely to die during the study period when compared to their counterparts with lower blood pressure levels.

“Older frail adults might benefit from slightly higher blood pressure,” said study author Michelle Odden, a public health epidemiologist at Oregon State University, in Corvallis, Ore. “As the blood vessels get more stiff with age, it may be necessary to have more pressure to keep blood pumping to the central organs, like the brain and heart.”

It’s too early to make any treatment recommendations, Odden said. “Our study does support lower blood pressure in healthy elderly people,” she said.

Each patient is different, she noted. “If you have seen one older adult, you have seen one older adult,” she said. “This really sums up the wide variety of health status we see in older adults.”

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