What is Vascular Dementia and High Blood Pressure

Uncontrolled high blood pressure can cause problems by damaging and narrowing the blood vessels in your brain. Over time, this raises the risk of a blood vessel becoming blocked or bursting.

If a blood cannot carry energy and oxygen to a part of the brain due to a blocked or burst blood vessel, some cells in the brain may be damaged, or even die.

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This damage can sometimes affect a person's memory, thinking, or language skills. This is called vascular dementia.

What is dementia?
Dementia is a term used to describe symptoms such as memory loss, confusion, and problems with speaking and understanding. Dementia is usually progressive, meaning that symptoms get worse over time.

Vascular dementia is the second most common cause of dementia after Alzheimer’s disease. Many people with Alzheimer's disease are also thought to have some degree of vascular dementia.

What are the effects of vascular dementia?
The effects of vascular dementia depends on which parts of the brain are affected. Most commonly, people will have difficulty with concentrating or remembering things. Others will have difficulty with speaking or communication. People with vascular dementia can also have difficulties moving around. Some people may be physically disabled or have problems with coordination.

Can vascular dementia be treated?
There is no cure for vascular dementia, but treatment can slow the speed with which symptoms progress. This is usually done by treating the original cause of the damage to the brain. For example, if the damage was caused by a stroke due to high blood pressure, then treatment will focus on preventing any further strokes.

There is some evidence to suggest that drugs used to treat Alzheimer's disease can help some people with vascular dementia. However, this may be because many people with vascular dementia also have Alzheimer's disease.

What can cause vascular dementia?
Since vascular dementia is caused by problems with the blood system that supplies the brain, any condition or lifestyle choice that weakens or blocks our blood vessels can cause it. For example, diabetes, high cholesterol and heart problems (such as irregular heart beats) can all cause vascular dementia.

How you can best avoid developing vascular dementia
Adopting a healthy lifestyle will help to slow the build up of damage to your blood vessels and will reduce your risk of developing vascular dementia. Also, if you have a condition that may damage your blood vessels (such as diabetes, high cholesterol and heart problems) it is important to get them under control.

How can I lower my risk of vascular dementia?
Having high blood pressure is a risk factor for vascular dementia. If you can lower your blood pressure through lifestyle changes and medicines, you can reduce your risk.

Vascular dementia is most commonly caused by the effects of a stroke. You can lower your risk of a stroke by keeping your blood pressure and cholesterol levels down.

If you smoke, if you have an unhealthy diet, or if you are overweight or not very active, you should think about changing to a more healthy lifestyle. This will help lower your blood pressure, and lower your risk of developing dementia. Minding blood pressure to prevent Alzheimer's Controlling blood pressure just might be the best protection yet known against dementia.

In a flurry of new research, scientists scanned people's brains to show hypertension fuels a kind of scarring linked to later development of Alzheimer's disease and other dementias. Those scars can start building up in middle age, decades before memory problems will appear.

Scientists have long noticed that some of the same triggers for heart disease high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes seem to increase the risk of dementia, too.

But for years, they thought that link was with "vascular dementia," memory problems usually linked to small strokes. Now they have learned that factors like hypertension also seem to spur Alzheimer's disease-like processes. French researchers say there may be another good reason to keep "the silent killer" in check. After studying more than 1,300 elderly people in western France, they conclude high blood pressure has a long-term negative effect on mental function. The good news, they say, is that maintaining control of blood pressure with medications appears to considerably lower the risk of mental decline.

The four-year study compared scores on a mental evaluation test in a group of elderly people with varying degrees of cardiovascular health. They included "normotensive" individuals (no high blood pressure), those with hypertension controlled with medications, and a group with untreated high blood pressure.

The researchers found the odds of mental decline correlated directly with blood pressure status, such that those with untreated high blood pressure were four times more likely to suffer the problem than those with normal blood pressure. Taking blood pressure medications seemed to cut the risk in all situations, but the researchers found patients benefited most when the drugs were able to keep blood pressures at a normal level.

That's an important point to remember, says Charles DeCarli, MD, director of the Alzheimer's Disease Center at the University of Kansas in Kansas City, Mo.

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