Vascular dementia

Vascular dementia is the second most common cause of dementia after Alzheimer’s disease.

A number of factors may increase the likelihood of damage to blood vessels in the brain.

These include smoking, high blood pressure (known as hypertension), high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, obesity and heart problems. For this reason, all of these factors can increase a person’s risk of vascular dementia.

Although some of these risk factors can have a genetic basis, managing high blood pressure and high cholesterol might help to lower the risk of vascular dementia. Some research suggests that regular exercise and a healthy diet, especially in midlife and beyond, might also help to lower our risk.

In exceptionally rare cases, vascular dementia can be caused by an inherited genetic disorder. One disorder is called CADASIL (cerebral autosomal dominant arteriopathy with subcortical infarcts and leukoencephalopathy). People with this disorder often have a family history of vascular problems such as strokes. If you are concerned about rare inherited forms of vascular dementia, you should discuss this with your doctor who may be able to refer you to a specialist clinic.

For good heart health, and to help lower your risk of vascular dementia:

  • don’t smoke
  • keep active and exercise regularly
  • maintain a healthy weight
  • eat a healthy balanced diet
  • only drink alcohol within Chief Medical Officer’s guidelines
  • keep cholesterol and blood pressure under control.

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle in your forties and fifties seems to be particularly important for helping to lower your risk of dementia. This includes not just staying physically active but also keeping mentally and socially active.

This information was updated in January 2018 and is due for review in January 2020. It does not replace any advice that doctors, pharmacists or nurses may give you. Please contact us if you would like a version with references.

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