In Australia, vascular dementia is the second most common cause of dementia after Alzheimer’s disease. Vascular dementia encompasses several subtypes of dementia that result from by ongoing problems with circulation of the blood to and within the brain. Poor blood flow in the brain can lead to brain cells dying, through mini-strokes and/or larger strokes and vascular dementia is caused over time by accumulated damage to the brain.
Note: It is thought about 10% of all dementias are mixed dementia, that is a mix of Alzheimer’s Disease and vascular dementia.
People with vascular dementia can experience changes to thinking, problem solving and language depending on where the damage to the brain has occurred. Some types of vascular dementia may cause movement or coordination difficulties. People with vascular dementia frequently have heart disease, or risk factors for heart disease such as high cholesterol, diabetes, and high blood pressure (see risk factors below).
The most common causes of vascular dementia are a series of small strokes, called multi-infarct dementia, or microscopic damage to the small blood vessels of the brain – what used to be called atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries. These tend to occur deep within the brain and are known as subcortical dementia.
There are things you can do to reduce your risk factors for heart disease with support from your GP and/or other health professionals, and this may help prevent the onset, or slow the progression of, vascular dementia. Risks factors you can influence include:
- high cholesterol
- high blood pressure
- physical inactivity
- being overweight or obese.
Unfortunately, there are also risk factors you can’t control including age (as you get older, your risk of heart disease and vascular dementia increases), gender (men have a higher risk of heart disease, but women’s risk grows and may be equal to men after menopause), ethnic background (including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people), and family history.
Minimise your risk
It’s never too late to minimise your risk of vascular dementia and heart disease by ensuring you lead a healthy lifestyle including:
- eating a low-fat, low-salt and low-sugar diet, with increased plant-based foods and lean protein;
- exercising for at least 30 minutes every day;
- minimising stress; and
- visiting a GP to keep track of your heart health indicators including cholesterol levels, blood pressure, weight, sugar levels and waist circumference.
Your GP will review the risk factors outlined above and may organise specific investigations or referrals if necessary. They can also assess your medications to determine if any adjustments are needed to optimise heart health.
If you have family history of heart disease or vascular dementia, or a chronic disease such as dementia, high blood pressure, diabetes or overweight/obesity, you may qualify for a Chronic Disease Management Plan. This plan can include subsidised visits to allied health practitioners (such as dieticians and exercise physiologists) who can help you to manage lifestyle risk factors.
For more information about Vascular Dementia visit Dementia Australia.