Reducing the risk of vascular dementia
Dementia describes different brain disorders that trigger a loss of brain function. It covers a range of symptoms that impact daily life such as memory loss, difficulty with thinking, problem-solving and language. These symptoms are all usually progressive and eventually severe.
Vascular dementia is the second most common form of dementia after Alzheimer’s disease, between 5 to 10 per cent of people with dementia have vascular dementia alone. In the Middle East, the condition affects up to 18 per cent of 80 years and above and is set to rise by 5% in the next 30 years as the aging population grows.
What causes vascular dementia?
A reduced supply of blood to the brain leads to vascular dementia, which damages and eventually destroys brain cells. When the vascular system is diseased or damaged, blood can leak out or be blocked from flowing to where it is needed. When this happens, oxygen and nutrients are not delivered to the brain cells and they eventually die.
Vascular dementia can greatly impact the lives of those affected. Common symptoms can include slowness of thought, changes to personality, feeling confused, and difficulty with walking and balance.
Sometimes vascular dementia follows a stroke due to the blood vessels in the brain becoming narrowed or blocked by a clot. This can cause cognitive impairments which can lead to a diagnosis of ‘post-stroke dementia’ or ‘single infarct dementia’.
Sometimes, vascular dementia may be caused by transient ischaemic attacks (TIAs) which can be so small that the symptoms last less than 24 hours or there are symptoms whatsoever – as the blockage clears itself. However, the brain can be left with small but widespread damage leading to ‘multi-infarct dementia’.
It is thought subcortical dementia is the most common type of vascular dementia. It happens when very small blood vessels deep within the brain develop thick walls and become stiff and narrowed, causing a reduction in blood flowing through them. This causes damage to the bundles of nerve fibres that carry signals around the brain, leading to symptoms of dementia.
Reducing the risk of vascular dementia
Not everyone that has a stroke will develop post-stroke dementia, but about 1 in 5 people who have a stroke will develop vascular dementia within the following 6 months. People that suffer from a stroke are also at an increased risk of further strokes, making the risk of getting vascular dementia higher.
Vascular dementia is an age-related condition that rarely affects people under 65. However, stroke-related vascular dementia shares the same risk factors of stroke.
The risk of vascular dementia can be reduced by leading an active, healthy lifestyle and avoid smoking. It is important to identify heart rhythm issues, as well as controlling high blood pressure and cholesterol with medication and regular check-ups.
A healthy heart ensures that enough blood is pumped to the brain, while healthy blood vessels, delivered through the vascular system, enable the oxygen- and nutrient-rich blood to reach the brain so it can function normally.
Getting your heart checked
It is important to manage cardiovascular health through regular exercise, eating a balanced diet, weight management and avoid smoking. Changes in these behavioural risk factors can greatly improve biological risk factors such as blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels.
Patients concerned about their heart health should have regular screenings, this increases the likelihood of early identification and management, including lifestyle interventions. Positive changes to lifestyle and diet, including regular physical activity and healthy eating, can delay or prevent the onset of risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease.
Your doctor will know more about your history and they can then refer you on to a cardiologist if your symptoms indicate that you may require some form of cardiac investigation. A heart screening clinic will identify if you are at increased risk of a stroke or have symptoms of atrial fibrillation. Managing these risks will greatly reduce the risk of a experiencing a stroke.
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