While there are many serious health issues that pose risks to the senior and elderly population, strokes remain the leading cause of long-term disability in the US. Almost 800,000 people each year suffer a stroke in this country, with nearly 75% of those stricken over 65. When not immediately fatal, strokes are often the culprit behind what’s referred to as vascular dementia, considered the second most often diagnosed form of dementia after Alzheimer’s. Although not every stroke sufferer will develop vascular dementia, one’s risk increases dramatically with every subsequent occurrence of stroke.
What is Vascular Dementia?
Vascular dementia is an umbrella term referring to problems in reasoning, processing, focus, and memory that result from impaired blood flow to the brain.
What are the symptoms of vascular dementia?
When caused by a stroke, symptom onset varies, depending on the event’s location and severity. But overall, vascular dementia symptoms are most sudden and pronounced when caused by a stroke. Those symptoms include confusion; memory loss; struggles with word recall, or aphasia; difficulty paying attention, or following a conversation; impaired motor skills, and vision loss.
What are its other causes, and how is vascular dementia diagnosed?
Because it’s caused by impaired blood flow, vascular dementia can result from a number of conditions that narrow or cause long-term damage to brain blood vessels, including diabetes; lupus; temporal arteritis; high blood pressure, and even the simple effects of aging.
Routine screening is often recommended for those considered high risk (diabetics, for example, or patients with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or those with previous incidents of stroke). Professional screening for depression is also recommended for these high-risk groups, as depression often accompanies vascular dementia and may worsen its symptoms.
Diagnostic tools include a thorough family history, including any history of dementia; neurological exam assessing reflexes, movement, coordination, and balance; and blood tests and brain imaging that look to uncover a recent stroke or other relevant blood vessel changes.
Is vascular dementia preventable?
While nothing on its own can be credited with preventing vascular dementia, there are preventive steps to protecting heart and brain health that decrease the instance of stroke and heart disease, and therefore lower your risk. Here are the most important:
- Don’t smoke!
- Limit alcohol consumption (see your doctor for recommended guidelines).
- Exercise at least 30 minutes each day – at a minimum, a brisk walk.
- Limit prolonged seated periods to stimulate healthy circulation.
- Maintain blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar numbers within proper guidelines provided by your physician.
- Eat a heart- and brain-healthy diet, and maintain a healthy weight.
For more information on vascular dementia, head to the Alzheimer’s Association website.