Taking medication to manage high blood pressure may do more than guard against heart disease—it may also protect you from Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia.

A recently-published analysis of results from the Honolulu-Asia Aging Study, a two-decade long investigation into the patterns and risk factors of dementia in aging Japanese-American men, discovered that the brains of men who took drugs to lower their blood pressure had distinctly healthier brains than those who did not.

In particular, those who were prescribed beta-blockers (medications that lower blood pressure by blocking particular hormonal and nervous system signals to a person's blood vessels and heart) were far less likely to exhibit the physical signs of brain damage, including:

  • Reduced amyloid plaque build-up—an indicator of Alzheimer's disease
  • Diminished brain atrophy—a common contributor to dementia
  • Reduced indications of microinfarcts—also known as "mini strokes," which can, over time, lead to dementia

Approximately 33 percent of American adults suffer from hypertension (high blood pressure)—the most prevalent form of cardiovascular disease—according to figures from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

High blood pressure is the root cause of most strokes, is a significant contributor to heart attacks and, if left unchecked, can cause significant damage to a person's kidneys, brain and eyes. Research has also linked high blood pressure with an increased risk of dementia.

One problem is that many people don't even realize they have high blood pressure—earning it the nickname, the "silent killer."

Treatment for high blood pressure typically begins with diuretics, which purge the body of unneeded sodium and water.

If a diuretic alone proves ineffective, a doctor may prescribe additional anti-hypertensives, including: ACE-inhibitors (Capoten, Prinivil, Altace), beta-blockers (Lopressor, Levatol, Corgard), or calcium channel blockers (Procardia, Norvasc, Cardizem).

Additional studies must be conducted to flesh out the exact implications of this most recent investigation, particularly to determine whether the benefits of blood pressure medications extend beyond the limited demographic (Japanese-American men) of the Honolulu study.

But researchers remain optimistic.

"Exciting," is the word study author Lon White uses to describe his team's findings.

"With the number of people with Alzheimer's disease expected to grow significantly as our population ages, it is increasingly important to identify factors that could delay or prevent the disease," he says.