Does stroke prevention help decrease the risk for dementia?

Sunrise Senior Living  |  June 15, 2017
A Canadian study found that steps for preventing stroke may also delay dementia.

Taking precautionary measures to ensure good heart and brain health is essential for aging well. 

Heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death in America, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with cancer, stroke and Alzheimer's disease all placing in the top six. The risks for these conditions increase with age, making preventative measures crucial. 

Researchers around the world are continually trying to find steps we can take to stop these conditions from forming. Recently, a team from the University of Western Ontario conducted a study on preventing stroke for people over the age of 80. Improving diet and increasing exercises yielded positive results for lowering the rates of strokes, but these methods may help keep dementia from forming as well.

"Patients with vascular dementia experience varying degrees of cognitive failure."

The link between stroke and dementia
Strokes occur when the blood supply to a person's brain is slowed or interrupted, according to the Mayo Clinic. This may happen when a blood vessel bursts or an artery becomes blocked. The UWO research team set out to examine lifestyle changes that seniors can make to help combat the risk of developing these symptoms. High cholesterol, for example, can lead to plaques that clog arteries. Therefore, healthier diets that reduce cholesterol can be important measures for cutting down on those stroke risks.

People who have experienced a stroke are twice as likely to develop a condition known as vascular dementia, the team reported. Patients with vascular dementia experience varying degrees of cognitive failure, such as memory loss or trouble with reasoning, judgment and planning. The blood flow disruption of a stroke reduces the amount of oxygen that makes its way to the brain, leading to permanent damages that cause this type of dementia. 

When UWO researchers noticed a drop in the rate of stroke in their study participants, it naturally led to a decrease in stroke-related dementia. Strokes aren't the only cause of vascular dementia, however. Blood clots, diabetes and other cardio troubles that impact blood flow can cut off oxygen to the brain, leading to cognitive damages that can contribute to dementia. The same measures that improve circulation to prevent stroke were also noted to decrease the rates of dementia.

Caregivers should encourage their loved ones to stay active to decrease their risks for stroke or vascular dementia. Caregivers should encourage their loved ones to stay active to decrease their risks for stroke or vascular dementia.

Preventing strokes and dementia by good diet and exercise
With the lifestyle changes presented in the study, such as cutting out tobacco products and adhering to a healthier diet, rates of stroke dropped by 37.9 percent, while dementia rates fell by 15.4 percent. Although some causes for these conditions are unavoidable, such as genetics, the right diet and exercise plan can be effective at reducing the risks for your loved one. 

The National Stroke Association (NSA) states that proper nutrition for stroke prevention includes:

  • A variety of vegetables, from starches to leafy greens
  • Fresh, whole fruits
  • Fat-free or low-fat dairy products
  • Whole grains
  • Lean proteins
  • Heart-healthy oils

The NSA also recommends that you avoid added sugars, sodium and trans fats, with these elements making up less than 10 percent of your loved one's daily caloric intake each day. 

In addition, limit your alcohol intake. Men have no more than two drinks a day, while women shouldn't consume more than one a day. No amount of tobacco use is recommended - smoking in particular can double the risk of a stroke and leads to more plaque buildup in the arteries, affecting the needed blood flow to the brain. 

Exercise can strengthen the heart and lungs, which leads to better circulation and a stronger flow of oxygen to the brain. Adults should get at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week, such as going for brisk walks, plus two days a week of muscle strengthening, like lifting weights. Brain exercises, like crossword puzzles, may also improve cognitive health, according to Rita Altman, SVP of Memory Care & Program Services at Sunrise Senior Living.

It's important to talk to a doctor before your loved one starts any kind of new diet or exercise plan to ensure they're well enough to participate. You will also need to note how certain medications can interact with foods or physical activity. They can also recommend specific workouts or other lifestyle changes that will best suit your loved one's needs to help prevent stroke and vascular dementia.

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