In general, the risk factors for vascular dementia are the same as those for heart disease and stroke. Risk factors for vascular dementia include:

  • Increasing age. Your risk for vascular dementia rises as you grow older. The disorder is rare before age 65, and risk rises substantially as you reach your 80s and 90s.
  • History of heart attack, strokes or mini strokes. If you've had a heart attack, you may be at increased risk of having blood vessel problems in your brain. The brain damage that occurs with a stroke or a mini stroke (transient ischemic attack) may increase your risk of developing dementia.
  • Atherosclerosis. This condition occurs when deposits of cholesterol and other substances (plaques) build up in your arteries and narrow your blood vessels. Atherosclerosis can increase your risk of vascular dementia — and possibly your risk of Alzheimer's disease — by reducing the flow of blood that nourishes your brain.
  • High cholesterol. Elevated levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL), the so-called "bad" cholesterol, are associated with an increased risk of vascular dementia, and possibly with a higher risk of Alzheimer's disease.
  • High blood pressure. When your blood pressure's too high, it puts extra stress on blood vessels everywhere in your body, including your brain. This increases the risk of vascular problems in the brain.
  • Diabetes. High glucose levels damage blood vessels throughout your body. Damage in brain blood vessels can increase your risk of stroke and vascular dementia.
  • Smoking. Smoking directly damages your blood vessels, increasing your risk of atherosclerosis and other circulatory diseases, including vascular dementia.
  • Atrial fibrillation. In this abnormal heart rhythm, the upper chambers of your heart begin to beat rapidly and irregularly, out of coordination with your heart's lower chambers. Atrial fibrillation increases your risk of stroke by leading to poor blood flow to your brain and elsewhere in your body.
Apr. 30, 2011