Risk factors are things that change our likelihood of developing a disease. Factors that may increase our risk of developing vascular dementia include age, genetics, lifestyle, and other health conditions like high blood pressure and stroke.

There are factors that can increase someone’s risk of vascular dementia, as they all increase the likelihood of damage to blood vessels in the brain. These factors include:

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

 

Having a stroke is a risk factor for developing vascular dementia. Risk factors that make a stoke more likely to happen are the same as 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 can have a genetic susceptibility. This means we may inherit a risk of developing high blood pressure, diabetes, or high cholesterol and these problems can run in families. But for everyone, managing high blood pressure and high cholesterol might help to lower the risk of vascular dementia and stroke. Research also suggests that regular exercise and a healthy diet, especially in midlife and into later life, might also help to lower our risk.

 

For good brain and 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 in line with government recommendations
  • keep high cholesterol and blood pressure under control
  • if you have diabetes, ensure your condition is managed well.

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 further information on steps you can take to reduce your risk of dementia visit our pages here.

 

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.

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.

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This information was updated in December 2021 and is due to be reviewed in December 2023, 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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