Dementia is an umbrella term for a range of symptoms associated with brain damage. Vascular dementia is a common type of dementia caused by reduced blood flow to the brain. It’s estimated to affect around 150,000 people in the UK. While there is no cure for vascular dementia, taking certain lifestyle decisions may reduce a person’s risk of developing the condition in the first place.
Maintaining a healthy heart is essential to reducing the risk
According to Mayo Clinic, the health of a person’s brain blood vessels is closely linked to their overall heart health. Maintaining a healthy heart is therefore essential to reducing the risk of vascular dementia.
The health body recommends the following five tips:
- Maintain a healthy blood pressure. Keeping a person’s blood pressure in the normal range may help prevent both vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
- Prevent or control diabetes. Avoiding the onset of type 2 diabetes, with diet and exercise, is another possible way to decrease a person’s risk of dementia. If a person already has diabetes, controlling their glucose levels may help protect their brain blood vessels from damage.
- Quit smoking. Smoking tobacco damages blood vessels everywhere in a person’s body.
- Keep active. Regular physical activity should be a key part of everyone’s wellness plan. In addition to all of its other benefits, exercise may help you avoid vascular dementia.
- Keep cholesterol in check. A healthy, low-fat diet and cholesterol-lowering medications may reduce the risk of strokes and heart attacks that could lead to vascular dementia, probably by reducing the amount of plaque deposits building up inside the brain’s arteries.
Underscoring the importance of leading a healthy lifestyle, one study published in the medical journal Neurology suggested that keeping physically and mentally active in middle age may be tied to a lower risk of developing dementia decades later.
The research singled out mental activities included reading, playing instruments, singing in a choir, visiting concerts, gardening, doing needlework or attending religious services.
“These results indicate that these activities in middle age may play a role in preventing dementia in old age and preserving cognitive health,” said study author Jenna Najar, MD, from Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg.
Najar added: ”It’s exciting as these are activities that people can incorporate into their lives pretty easily and without a lot of expense.”
The study involved 800 Swedish women with an average age of 47 who were followed for 44 years. At the beginning of the study, participants were asked about their mental and physical activities.
The participants were then divided into groups and scored based on their level of engagement of various physical and mental activities.
During the study, 194 women developed dementia. Of those, 102 had Alzheimer’s disease, 27 had vascular dementia and 41 had mixed dementia, which is when more than one type of dementia is present, such as the plaques and tangles of Alzheimer’s disease along with the blood vessel changes seen in vascular dementia.
The study found that women with a high level of mental activities were 46 per cent less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease and 34 per cent less likely to develop dementia overall than the women with the low level of mental activities. The women who were physically active were 52 per cent less likely to develop dementia with cerebrovascular disease and 56 per cent less likely to develop mixed dementia than the women who were inactive.
What are the symptoms of vascular dementia?
Vascular dementia can start suddenly or come on slowly over time, explained the NHS.
- Slowness of thought
- Difficulty with planning and understanding
- Problems with concentration
- Mood, personality or behavioural changes
- Feeling disoriented and confused
- Difficulty walking and keeping balance
Symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, such as problems with memory and language (many people with vascular dementia also have Alzheimer’s)
“These problems can make daily activities increasingly difficult and someone with the condition may eventually be unable to look after themselves,” noted the NHS.
A person should see their GP if they recognise any of warning signs, especially if they are over 65 years of age, advised the health body.
It added: “If it’s spotted at an early stage, treatment may be able to stop the vascular dementia getting worse, or at least slow it down.”
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