There are factors that can increase someone's risk of vascular dementia as they increase the likelihood of damage to blood vessels in the brain.

The biggest risk factor for vascular dementia is age, followed by high blood pressure. The older we get, the more likely we are to develop vascular dementia. Our arteries get stiffer and narrower as we get older, or if we have untreated high blood pressure for a long time. This makes us more likely to get damaged arteries and go on to develop vascular dementia.

Other risk factors include:

  • smoking
  • high cholesterol
  • type 2 diabetes
  • obesity
  • low levels of physical activity
  • heart problems.

Having a stroke also increases your risk of developing vascular dementia. Risk factors that make a stroke more likely to happen are the same as those listed above. One in every three people who have a stroke go on to develop dementia. Most of these cases are thought to be vascular dementia.

Some of the risk factors listed we can’t change, like our age and genes. Some of the risk factors listed can have a genetic susceptibility. This means we may inherit a higher chance of developing high blood pressure, diabetes, or high cholesterol and these problems can run in families.

Taking control over risk factors that we can change is important. Having a healthy lifestyle and managing health conditions like high blood pressure, protects our brain health and reduces our risk of vascular dementia, stroke and underlying conditions that can lead to them. Some small and early stage research has pointed towards adopting a healthy lifestyle as a way to manage symptoms, and possibly slow down the progression of early stage vascular dementia.

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.

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.

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

  • don’t smoke
  • keep physically and socially active
  • maintain a healthy weight
  • eat a healthy balanced diet
  • only drink alcohol in line with government recommendations
  • keep high cholesterol and blood pressure under control
  • if you have diabetes, ensure your condition is managed well
  • have your hearing checked regularly
  • keep your brain active by doing things you enjoy and spending time with others.

For further information on steps you can take to reduce your risk of dementia visit our pages here or click the button below.

In exceptionally rare cases, vascular dementia can be caused by an inherited genetic disorder. One example of this is a disorder is called CADASIL (cerebral autosomal dominant arteriopathy with subcortical infarcts and leukoencephalopathy). People with this disorder often have a family history of stroke as well as dementia.

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.

To find out more about genes and dementia, including information about genetic testing, click the button below.

What is vascular dementia?

This booklet aims to help you understand more about vascular dementia. It gives an overview of the causes, symptoms and treatments.

Sue Strachan - Photo credit Alex Wallace
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This information was updated in December 2023 and is due to be reviewed in December 2025. It was written by Alzheimer’s Research UK’s Information Services team with input from lay and expert reviewers. Please get in touch if you’d like a version with references or in a different format.

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