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What is the Connection Between Stroke and Dementia?

The connection between stroke and dementia comes from the fact that strokes can cause a specific type of dementia known as vascular dementia. Strokes, or “brain attacks” as they are sometimes called, are a medical emergency that generally occurs when blood flowing to the brain is blocked off because of a blood clot or rupture. This in turn, can deprive the brain of oxygen and cause brain cells to die off, leading to vascular dementia.

Although it is often referred to as a disease, vascular dementia is actually a group of symptoms and may appear suddenly after a stroke or come on gradually. The symptoms experienced with stroke and dementia can vary from patient to patient based on the area of the brain affected. Typical symptoms, however, include confusion, forgetfulness, depression and trouble concentrating. Nerve-related indicators including paralysis and loss of bladder functioning can also appear.

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Most of the time, stroke and dementia are caused by a transient ischemic attack (TIA), or a stroke that causes a temporary blockage of blood flow to the brain. Although the stroke may present with mild symptoms such as dizziness, it is often not recognized as a stroke; in many cases, the TIA may not cause permanent brain damage. Overtime, however, multiple small strokes can cause significant neurological damage and lead to Multi-infarct dementia. When damage from a single stroke is severe enough to cause brain damage, the resulting condition is known as Single-infarct dementia. Other subclasses of vascular dementia may also be fault.

It is important to note, that vascular dementia is not the only form of dementia, nor is it the most common. Alzheimer’s disease (AD), a type of dementia believed to be caused by neurons dying in the brain, is actually the largest single cause of dementia. In fact, some patients suffer from both AD and vascular dementia. For a proper dementia diagnosis, a visit to a neurologist is usually needed. Generally, this specialist will use brain images, medical history and review of clinical symptoms to complete their diagnosis.

Although dementia can sometimes mean facing a debilitating and permanent decline, individuals suffering from vascular dementia may have a more positive prognosis than those dealing with AD. Once a vascular dementia diagnosis has been made, the patient, physician and caregivers can focus on halting further deterioration. To achieve this goal, the physician is likely to develop a treatment care plan designed to reduce the likelihood of suffering from additional strokes. Doctors likely will look for underlying medical conditions that can contribute to stroke and dementia, including untreated diabetes and heart disease; if necessary, prescription medications will be prescribed to treat these conditions. AD medications might also be given to try and maintain cognitive functioning.

Quite often, physicians will recommend lifestyle changes for stroke and dementia management. A diet low in saturated fat, caffeine, alcohol and sodium is usually suggested to avoid further damage to the blood vessels. Aspirin may be recommended for the drug’s ability to thin out the blood and prevent blood clots from forming. Exercise is also likely to be suggested to help reduce stress and curtail obesity.

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