Harvard Mental Health Letter

Ask the doctor: Is it possible to prevent vascular dementia?

Q. My father-in-law was just diagnosed with vascular dementia. The doctor said heart disease probably contributed to the problem. What exactly is vascular dementia, and how can I help my husband avoid the same fate?

A. The word "dementia" means "deprived of mind." It's a catchall term that covers the memory loss, confusion, changes in personality, and dwindling ability to perform everyday activities that affect millions of older people. One main cause of dementia is Alzheimer's disease, a progressive accumulation of tangles and clumps of protein in and around brain cells. These tangles and clumps make it difficult for brain cells to communicate with one another, and can eventually kill them.

The second most common type of dementia, vascular dementia, develops when blood vessels do not supply adequate oxygen to the brain. Typically, small blockages deprive some brain cells of oxygen, causing them to die.

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