DIET AND FITNESS:

Vascular Dementia -- Causes and
Remedies
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Last updated May 19, 2017 (originally published November 16, 2011)
By Alison Turner, Contributing Columnist




There are an estimated 6.8 million people in the United
States suffering from all sorts of dementia. About 80% of
these cases are
Alzheimer's disease.  But nearly 20% are
patients of vascular dementia (VaD).  

Vascular dementia is defined by the National Institute of
Neurological Disorders and Stroke  as “caused by brain
damage from cerebrovascular or cardiovascular problems -
usually strokes.”  Common symptoms include difficulty with
organization, problem solving, following instructions,
memory, and general absent mindedness.  Sometimes those
afflicted also walk with rapid, shuffling steps.

These high numbers of vascular dementia incidence were
confirmed by Dr. Brenda Plassman with the Duke University
Medical Center and other researchers in 2007, when they
conducted  the Aging, Demographics and Memory Study
(ADAMS), a population-based study of dementia that
included individuals from all over the United States.   

The team is particularly concerned with the VaD numbers
because its likelihood increases with age, and the U.S. elderly
population is “expected to double from approximately 35
million today to more than 70 million by 2030.”

Dr. Plassman and colleagues explain that “dementia is a
disease of particular concern because the decline in memory
and other cognitive functions that characterizes this
condition also leads to a loss of independent function that
has a wide-ranging impact on individuals, families and
healthcare systems.”

Fortunately, researchers and experts are giving this problem
the attention it deserves.  Several risk factors and possible
causes of vascular dementia have recently been discovered,
giving encouraging information for future prevention.  

Below is a list of 10 ways to help you or a loved one
decrease your odds of vascular dementia, including several
lifestyle choices that you can make now to help prevent
future vascular dementia.































1.   
Keep your cholesterol levels low.

For most of us, cholesterol has by now become a four letter
word: we know that there is a “bad kind” and that no matter
what we don’t want a lot of it in our bodies.  Cholesterol is
made by the liver, and is actually necessary to our body --
the catch is that our body can make the amount that we
need, so that any cholesterol attained from food is extra.  If
we gather too much of the “bad kind” (LDL) of cholesterol it
can build up on the walls of arteries making it harder for
blood to pass.  This can lead to heart attacks, strokes  and,
you guessed it, vascular dementia.

In 2009, with the support of several experts, Dr. Alina
Solomon with both the Department of Neurology at the
University of Kuopio in Finland and the Aging Research
Center at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden , studied the
relationship between vascular dementia and cholesterol by
evaluating the health of nearly 10,000 patients when they
were between the ages of 40 to 45, and then again 30 years
later.  They found that “elevated midlife serum cholesterol
increases the risk” of vascular dementia.   One possible
explanation for this may be that “atherosclerosis in larger
brain vessels is thought to be related primarily to blood
pressure and secondarily to blood lipids.”

Experts with the Eisenberg Center at Oregon Health &
Science University, including Dr. Bruin Rugge, report that in
most cases small changes in diet and exercise can get high
cholesterol back to healthy, lower levels.  Diets low in
cholesterol include fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and
contain less than 35 percent of calories in fat.  If diet and
exercise is not effective, there are medication options. (Read
more about
foods that help reduce cholesterol.)

2,  
Keep your midlife BMI number in the ¨healthy¨ range.  

The
Body Mass Index (BMI) is a number calculated from a
person’s height and weight that indicates the content of
body fat for most people.  BMI does not directly measure
body fat, such as “thirty pounds of fat,” but rather provides
weight categories of fat content that may determine whether
or not people are at a healthy weight.  

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention publish that
a BMI under 18.5 is “underweight,” while 18.5-24.9 is
“normal,” and a number over 30 is “obese.”   

We are all used to hearing about the importance of
maintaining a healthy level of body fat; a lesser known
incentive is that a healthy BMI number in midlife may
decrease your odds for vascular dementia later in life.

In 2007 a team of researchers led by Dr. Rachel Whitmer  at
the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research in Oakland,
examined the association between Body Mass Index (BMI)
in patients between the ages of 40 and 45, and their risk of
vascular dementia an average of 36 years later.  They found
that the patients who were determined “overweight” (with a
BMI between 25 and 30) had twice as much risk for vascular
dementia decades later.  The researchers conclude that
“midlife BMI is strongly predictive” of vascular dementia.   

If you are concerned about a high BMI number of you or a
loved one, consider talking to your doctor about diet and
exercise changes that may help to bring your fat content into
a healthier range. (Do you know what your BMI is? Here is a
handy
BMI calculator.)

3.
 Decrease your odds for metabolic syndrome.

Metabolic syndrome is the name for a group of risk factors
that happen at the same time and increase the risk for Type
2 diabetes, stroke and coronary artery disease. One of the
most important risk factors for metabolic syndrome is weight
around the middle of the body (also known as central
obesity) .

In 2008, a study conducted in various parts of France and
led by Dr. Christelle Raffaitin with the Diabetology-Nutrition
Unit at the University Hospital of Bordeaux and the Institut
National de la Santé et de la Recherche Medicalé (INSERM),
also in Bordeaux,  studied the relationship between vascular
dementia and metabolic syndrome in over 7,000 French
people over the age of 65.  

They found that “the presence of metabolic syndrome
increased the risk of incident vascular dementia.”  Earlier
detection of metabolic syndrome, the researchers believe,
can thus be a potential method for reducing the likelihood of
vascular dementia.

There are lifestyles choices that we can make to help prevent
metabolic syndrome.  A diet low in fat with lots of fruits and
vegetables, combined with regular exercise, can help to keep
your body mass index (BMI – see above) low, thereby
preventing central obesity.

[Update:

Of all the changes you can make to your diet that may lower
your risk for metabolic syndrome, increasing the amount of
magnesium in your diet up to an optimal level would have
the most impact, a 2010 study suggests. The study, carried
out by scientists from Clermont Université, Université
d'Auvergne in France, found that magnesium deficiency is
linbed directly to metabolic syndrome risk, and that adding
magnesium to the diets of those who are deficient helps to
reduce their risk for metabolic syndrome.

Magnesium is involved in over 300 essential chemical
reactions in your body, including triggering the metabolism
of energy.

You'll find magnesium in dark, leafy greens, especially
spinach, nuts, beans, avocados, dark chocolate, bananas and
yogurt.]

4.  
An active body now for an active mind later.  

We have seen above how maintaining a low BMI is a good
step towards preventing later vascular dementia, and other
research suggests that physical activity in general decreases
risks of future vascular dementia.  In 2010, Dr. Dag
Aarsland, affiliated with Kings College London and the
School of Medicine at the University of Bergen in Norway ,
led an examination of 24 different studies that reference the
medical records of nearly 1400 patients with vascular
dementia.  They found a “significant association between
physical exercise and a reduced risk of developing VaD,” and
propose  that exercise is “likely to prevent the development
of VaD.”

Encouraging a loved one (or doing so yourself) to devote
thirty minutes a few times a week to exercise could decrease
his or her (or your) chance for vascular dementia decades
down the road. (Here are
10 tips to help you become more
active.)

5.
Do what you can to avoid diabetes.  

Diabetes can be confusing, with catch phrases like “Type I”,  
“Type II” “insulin response” and “
fasting blood sugar
levels
.”  Basically, diabetes occurs when our body’s level of
insulin, which moves a sugar called glucose from the
bloodstream into parts of our body for energy, is off-
balance.  This happens because the pancreas is not making
enough insulin, the body’s cells are not responding normally
to insulin, or both occur at once.  The end result is high
blood sugar because glucose is not moved into muscle, fat,
and liver cells, as it should be.  

Unfortunately, some cases (Type I) of diabetes cannot be
prevented – and numbers of both types are becoming
alarming, particularly in the elderly.  In 2006 Dr. Elizabeth
Selvin with the Department of Epidemiology at the Johns
Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and colleagues  
assessed the prevalence of diabetes in the elderly using data
from nearly 3000 elderly Americans.  They found that 15.3%
of these cases had diabetes, representing 5.4 million people
in the U.S.

We’ve all heard about how serious diabetes can be for the
elderly,  and  recent (2010) work from experts from various
institutions in Finland and Sweden, including Dr. Satu
Ahtiluoto with the National Institute for Health and Welfare
in Helsinki,  suggests that vascular dementia  is yet another
posible complication.  Their study included over 550
residents over 85 years old in Finland, a population in which
diabetes “doubled the incidence” of vascular dementia.  The
researchers conclude that this may be because “elderly
patients with diabetes develop more extensive vascular
pathology,” which, sometimes in combination with other
factors, “results in increased dementia risk.”

Again, there is way to prevent ¨Type 1¨diabetes.  Methods
for preventing “Type II” diabetes include a healthy body
weight and active lifestyle.  While there is no cure for either
type, treatment ranges from medicines to lifestyle choices
that may alleviate symptoms.

6.
Watch out for hypertension.


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