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Hypertension in older adults: What is the target blood pressure?

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Aging without frailty is an important goal of geriatric care and is likely related to cardiovascular health.7 An older adult who becomes slower physically or mentally, with diminished strength and energy, is less likely to be able to live independently.

Would treating systolic blood pressure to a target of 120 to 130 mm Hg reduce the risk of prefrailty or frailty? Unfortunately, the 3-year SPRINT follow-up of the adults age 75 and older did not show any effect of intensive treatment on gait speed or mobility limitation.8 It is possible that the early termination of the study limited outcomes.

Regarding cognition, the new guidelines say that lowering blood pressure in adults with hypertension to prevent cognitive decline and dementia is reasonable, giving it a class IIa (moderate) recommendation, but they do not offer a particular blood pressure target.

Two systematic reviews of randomized placebo-controlled trials9,10 suggested that pharmacologic treatment of hypertension reduces the progression of cognitive impairment. The trials did not use an intensive treatment goal.

The impact of intensive treatment of hypertension (to a target of 120–130 mm Hg) on the development or progression of cognitive impairment is not known at this time. The SPRINT Memory and Cognition in Decreased Hypertension analysis may shed light on the effect of intensive treatment of blood pressure on the incidence of dementia, although the early termination of SPRINT may limit its conclusions as well.


The new hypertension guideline gives clinicians 2 things to think about when treating hypertensive, ambulatory, noninstitutionalized, nondemented older adults, including those age 75 and older:

  • Older adults tolerate intensive blood pressure treatment as well as standard treatment. In particular, the fall rate is not increased and may even be less with intensive treatment.
  • Older adults have better cardiovascular outcomes with blood pressure less than 130 mm Hg than with higher levels.

Adherence to the new guidelines would require many older adults without significant multimorbidity to take 3 drugs and undergo more frequent monitoring. This burden may align with the goals of care for many older adults. However, data do not exist to prove a benefit from intensive blood pressure control in debilitated elderly patients, and there may be harm. Lowering the medication burden may be a more important goal than lowering the pressure for this population. Blood pressure targets and hypertension management should reflect patient-centered goals of care.

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