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Approximately 20 percent of all stroke survivors will develop cognitive problems later in life, including vascular dementia. Experts with the Methodist Neurological Institute in Houston say recent research showing a possible link between vascular lesions and Alzheimer's disease is yet another reason to be more vigilant in our efforts to prevent a stroke.
Vascular dementia occurs when decreased blood flow to the brain -- often as a result of stroke -- causes tissue damage, resulting in diminished cognitive abilities. According to the National Stroke Association, vascular dementia is the second-leading cause of dementia, after Alzheimer's disease.
Prevent a Stroke and Stroke-Related Dementia
Aging, hardening of the arteries and a previous history of stroke are major risk factors for stroke-related dementia, according to Dr. John Volpi, stroke neurologist with the Methodist Neurological Institute in Houston, Texas. Other major risk factors and preventive measures are the same as those for stroke:
* Control high blood pressure and cholesterol levels through diet, exercise and medication, if prescribed by your health care provider.
* Quit smoking if you smoke.
* Manage diabetes through lifestyle changes and medication, as prescribed.
Signs of Vascular Dementia
Signs of vascular dementia can come on suddenly with the onset of stroke, or they can develop gradually. Gradual symptoms may be the result of a series of small, mini strokes rather than a single, catastrophic stroke, says Volpi.
Symptoms may include memory loss; difficulty concentrating or following instructions; inability to perform tasks that once came easily; and confusion, wandering or getting lost in familiar surroundings. In addition, changes in mood, behavior or personality -- including agitation, aggression or depression -- may occur.
If you or someone you care for is experiencing dementia symptoms, a complete clinical evaluation is necessary. This may include tests of cognitive functioning and brain imaging scans, such as computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), to pinpoint areas of damage. Following your health care provider's recommendations for treatment and medication may prevent or slow onset of stroke-related dementia.

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