Dementia of any origin can be a devastating diagnosis for families to receive. Although some forms of dementia are not typically preventable, there are other types – such as vascular dementia, which is directly related to cardiovascular health – that may be avoided.
In most cases, a healthy cardiovascular system is related to lifestyle. By taking steps early on to maintain your heart health, you’ll keep oxygen-rich blood flowing to your brain cells, thus better preserving your ability to care for yourself and live a full, independent life well into your golden years.
What is Vascular Dementia?
Unlike Alzheimer’s Disease, which is classified as a brain disorder, vascular dementia results from a disruption in blood flow to the brain. This disruption can destroy brain cells, resulting in dementia. Vascular dementia is a result of poor cardiovascular health and not a disease of the brain in and of itself.
Power to Your Brain
Although your brain cells can’t be recovered once damaged, you can take steps to reduce your risks. By following these suggestions you’ll not only increase the health of your brain, but you’ll also be protecting your heart and the rest of your body from chronic and debilitating conditions like hypertension, diabetes, and cardiac disease.
- Watch for strokes
Blockages caused by plaque build-up in the walls of you arteries don’t just inhibit the flow of blood; they can also break off and travel to your brain, causing a stroke. By knowing the symptoms of a stroke – weakness, dizziness, sudden headache, slurred speech, and loss of vision, to name a few – you can better prevent long-term damage, including vascular dementia, by getting help right away.
Transient ischemic attacks, or "mini-strokes," should also be watched for vigilantly. If you have a history of hypertension or a family history of stroke, talk to your doctor about your risks. Mini-strokes often go unnoticed, yet cause damage that increases your chances of vascular dementia.
- Avoid the excessive use of vices
Cigarettes – and even second-hand smoke – can directly damage your blood vessels, increasing your risk for vascular damage. Excessive alcohol intake can also weaken your blood vessels and inhibit your immune system. If you smoke, it would be wise to quit, and if you drink, do so in moderation. If you need help to control either, talk to your doctor.
- Follow a healthy diet
Limit sugar, fat, and sodium. Focus on fiber-rich whole grains, vegetables and fruits, and low-fat proteins like fish, soy, and legumes. Avoid foods that are processed or high in saturated fat.
- Nothing increases oxygen-rich blood flow like exercise
Get out and move! Walk as much as possible, opt for the stairs over the elevator, and track your progress on a pedometer or fitness tracker. Aim for 10,000 steps a day, as recommended by the American Heart Association, to keep your cardiovascular system in good shape and help you control your risks for vascular dementia.
- Keep your diabetes and blood pressure under control
Have a blood test done once a year to make sure your cholesterol numbers haven't climbed. Your doctor may prescribe medication to lower high cholesterol, as well as provide instructions for adjusting your diet. For diabetes, hypertension, or elevated cholesterol, make sure you see your doctor regularly.
Your Health is in Your Hands
By taking steps to prevent vascular dementia, you're ensuring an active future well into your retirement years. For those currently diagnosed with this condition, speak to your doctor about treatments that can slow or halt its progress, and consider utilizing physical therapy and rehabilitation to get your body - and mind - back in the game.