Vascular Dementia

Written by Chloe Hamilton of Warm Embrace Elder Care

How is your vascular health? That’s probably not a question that you’re frequently asked, and yet the impact of your vascular health is enormous. Did you know that caring for your vascular health could prevent dementia?

Dementia is a broad term that is comprised of many sub-types of dementias, one of which is Alzheimer’s Disease.  Less well-known than Alzheimer’s is Vascular Dementia (VaD).  VaD is a disease of the small blood vessels of the brain.

If the large blood vessels in the brain become blocked, the patient suffers a recognizable stroke.  The small blood vessels in the brain are also crucial, though a blockage may not result in a visible stroke.  Instead, the patient may suffer a series of transient ischemic attacks (TIA), which are like “mini strokes”.  These strokes may go entirely unnoticed, especially if they occur at the front of the brain. Even an initial CT scan often does not show any evidence of a stroke within the first 24 hours—only an MRI can show the results of a stroke within minutes of it occurring.

These mini-strokes may be silent, but they are still causing irreparable damage to the brain, increasing the risk for dementia.  In a study conducted by the Neuropathology Group MRC, 78% of dementia cases showed evidence of small vessel disease.  Every minute in North America an overt stroke is occurring, and there are an estimated 10-20x more silent mini-strokes than there are overt strokes. Vascular Dementia tends to affect men more than women, though the disparity between men and women is closing in as increasing numbers of women are being affected by heart disease and stroke.

The risk factors for VaD are the same as the risk factors for heart disease and stroke, so by reducing or eliminating your heart disease risk factors, you may also be preventing Vascular Dementia.  The most prevalent risk factor for both VaD and stroke is hypertension—a silent disease that affects the majority of our aging population.  Hypertension initially appears unimportant, but it flourishes on unhealthy lifestyles that tend to include too much sugar, fat, salt, and not enough exercise.

Hypertension, paired with elevated cholesterol, diabetes, smoking, age, and history of stroke/TIA are all serious risk factors.  People do not have control over some risk factors, such as age—we only wish we could control that factor! Other risk factors can be eliminated entirely—such as smoking.  While hypertension and diabetes may not be entirely eliminated in all cases, they can be reduced and managed effectively. Increasing physical activity to 30 minutes of aerobic exercise three times weekly has a positive influence on the brain and can assist in countering other risk factors for both dementia and heart disease.

Since you personally are capable of controlling most of your risk factors, you have the power to prevent VaD.  How is your vascular health now?

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