Vascular dementia is caused by reduced blood flow to the brain. This damages and eventually kills brain cells.
This is usually due to:
- narrowing of the small blood vessels deep inside the brain, known as subcortical vascular dementia or small vessel disease
- a stroke (where the blood supply to part of the brain is suddenly cut off, usually because of a blood clot), called post-stroke dementia or single-infarct dementia
- lots of "mini strokes" (also called transient ischaemic attacks or TIAs) that cause tiny but widespread damage to the brain, known as multi-infarct dementia
Some people with vascular dementia also have brain damage caused by Alzheimer's disease. This is known as mixed dementia.
Those at risk of vascular dementia
Things that can increase your risk of vascular dementia in later life include:
- high blood pressure (hypertension)
- an unhealthy diet
- high blood cholesterol
- lack of exercise
- being overweight or obese
- drinking too much alcohol
- atrial fibrillation (a type of irregular heartbeat) and other types of heart disease
These problems increase the risk of damage to the blood vessels in and around your brain. They can also cause blood clots to develop inside them.
Reducing your risk of vascular dementia
You may be able to reduce your chances of getting vascular dementia by:
These actions may also help slow down or stop the progression of vascular dementia if you're diagnosed in the early stages.
But there are some things you cannot change that can increase your risk of vascular dementia.
- your age – the risk of vascular dementia increases as you get older, with people over 65 most at risk
- your family history – your risk of problems such as strokes is higher if a close family member has had them
- your ethnicity – if you have a South Asian or African background, your risk of vascular dementia is higher - this is because related problems such as diabetes and high blood pressure are more common in these groups
In rare cases, unavoidable genetic conditions can also increase your risk of vascular dementia.
Content supplied by the NHS and adapted for Ireland by the HSE