10 Practical Tips to Manage Vascular Dementia

Vascular Dementia is the second most common type of Dementia after Alzheimer's, occurring in 10 % of all cases. Contrary to Alzheimer's, which affects nerve conduction in the brain, Vascular Dementia results from the blockage of the blood flow to areas of the brain. Several risk factors increase the probability of someone developing Vascular Dementia. Still, even after diagnosis, managing the same risk factors may lessen the impact of further progression.

Key takeaways:
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    Vascular Dementia ranks as the second most common type of Dementia, only after Alzheimer's.
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    Vascular Dementia is caused by chronic disease and unhealthy lifestyle choices that impair blood circulation to parts of the brain.
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    Management of lifestyle and chronic conditions that contribute to vascular disease can reduce further vascular damage and slow the progression of cognitive decline.

What is Vascular Dementia?

Vascular Dementia results from impaired blood circulation in the brain and causes reduced oxygen to brain cells. This causes irreversible cognitive impairment due to either a sudden major stroke or several "mini-strokes" over time.

Vascular Dementia may also occur with Alzheimer's or Lewy Body disease as a “Mixed Dementia”. Symptoms may include reduced concentration and thought processes, poor short-term memory, mood changes, and difficulty performing everyday tasks.

Post-stroke Dementia: Not all people who have a stroke develop Dementia, but about 20% do within six months of the stroke. A stroke will develop suddenly and have physical effects, such as one-sided limb weakness or impaired speech, depending on the affected area of the brain.

Multi-infarct dementia: This type of Vascular Dementia takes place over time. Several "mini-strokes" occur throughout the brain, causing progressive circulatory impairment. Sometimes "mini-strokes" can occur as TIAs (transient ischemic attacks) and exhibit outward symptoms such as temporary speech disturbance or limb weakness. Other times, damage to the brain may go unnoticed until impairment causes a pronounced decline in function.

10 Tips for managing Vascular Dementia

While vascular impairment is not reversible, modification of the lifestyle habits and chronic conditions that caused the disease can reduce further impairment. While making changes can be challenging, it can present the opportunity to improve health and quality of life.

Tackling one tip at a time with family support is essential for positive results. Information and support are available from organizations such as the Alzheimer's Association.

1. Exercise

Some physical activity for 20-30 minutes daily, at least five days per week, will help maintain a healthy weight and improve blood flow. Exercise may be as simple as a brisk walk in the evening or as complex as a workout at the local gym. Remember, always consult with your medical practitioner before starting an exercise program.

2. Sleep

Along with diet and exercise, a regular sleep routine is essential to improve general health. As we age, sleep patterns change, so it is necessary to practice good sleep hygiene. Limit or eliminate caffeine, especially in the afternoon or evening. Reduce device "screen time" at least an hour before bed at night and keep your bedroom dark and peaceful. Also, reduce or eliminate alcohol intake.

3. Diet

Reducing saturated fats, sugar, and salt will impact your overall health and lessen the effects of vascular disease. A healthy diet will aid in managing blood pressure, cholesterol, and diabetes. In addition, diets with large amounts of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, vegetable oils, nuts, fish, and poultry will lower the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.

4. Limit or eliminate alcohol intake

As we age, the ability to process alcohol changes, reducing tolerance. The National Institute on Aging recommends no more than two drinks per day for older adult men. Older adult women should have no more than one drink a day. Less is always best.

5. Stop smoking

Smoking tobacco or cannabis damages blood vessels and is a significant risk factor for vascular disease. If you smoke and wish to quit, you may need assistance overcoming this addiction. Contact your medical practitioner for treatment plans regarding smoking cessation.

6. Manage blood pressure

In the United States, half of all Americans have hypertension or high blood pressure. Hypertension is a blood pressure reading higher than 130/80. Strategies to regulate healthy blood pressure include reducing stress, a healthy diet, exercise, and possibly medication prescribed by your medical practitioner.

7. Manage heart rhythm

Atrial fibrillation is the most common type of irregular heart rhythm in older adults, according to a study by the European Heart Journal. Having atrial fibrillation doubles the risk of Vascular Dementia. Due to this irregular heart rate, small blood clots can form and impair circulation in the brain. Your medical practitioner may prescribe medications to regulate your heart rate and anticoagulants (blood thinners) to reduce blood clots.

8. Control Diabetes

Elevated blood glucose levels can increase the risk of blood vessel damage. Management of diabetes will reduce further damage and slow disease progression in Vascular Dementia. Successful diet and exercise will help stabilize blood sugar levels, ideally between 70-120mg/dl. Consult with your medical practitioner or diabetes educator for strategies and guidance.

9. Reduce cholesterol

Elevated cholesterol is a risk factor for Vascular Dementia as the build-up contributes to atherosclerosis (narrowing arteries.) Reducing saturated and trans-fat intake will help prevent further vascular damage. Your medical practitioner may also prescribe one of a group of medications called statins which lower cholesterol levels in the bloodstream.

10. Medications

Whether taking medications to manage cardiovascular issues or slow cognitive impairment, compliance is key to managing Vascular Dementia. Use aids such as compliance packaging from your pharmacy or other reminder systems to improve consistency. Regular medication reviews with your pharmacist or medical practitioner will help keep you up to date about any concerns. Always consult your medical practitioner or pharmacist before taking any over-the-counter medications that may interact with your prescriptions.

Although vascular Dementia is not reversible, managing risk factors and lifestyle choices can significantly impact the status of the disease. A healthy lifestyle will help manage the chronic diseases that contribute to vascular health and prevent further damage to brain vessels. This may slow the progression of cognitive decline and improve overall health and wellness.

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