What is vascular dementia? Dr Mark Porter explains all

Saga’s medical expert demystifies vascular dementia and explains how lifestyle changes can make a difference.

Long-serving newsreader Alastair Stewart has spoken openly about how he is living with vascular dementia.

The NHS says the condition is estimated to affect some 180,000 people in the UK and it’s the second most common form of dementia after Alzheimer’s.

Saga’s expert, Dr Mark Porter, explains more about the illness and how lifestyle changes can make a difference.

The silhouette of a man watching a sunrise in a field next to a treeCredit: Shutterstock / vvvita

There are thought to be up to 200,000 people in the UK currently living with vascular dementia. It is caused by a choking of the delicate blood supply to parts of the brain leading to damage and cognitive impairment.

While it can come on quickly following a stroke, it is typically a gradual ‘sludging’ process that occurs over many years and, as with circulatory problems elsewhere, is linked to factors such as smoking, obesity and high blood pressure. Put simply, what’s bad for the heart is bad for the brain.


What are the symptoms of vascular dementia?

Struggling with everyday life

The ‘discombobulation’ and struggles with everyday tasks that Alastair describes are typical symptoms in the earlier stages.

Short-term memory impairment is common too, but initially often not as marked as it is in Alzheimer’s disease.

What is the treatment for vascular dementia?

Diet and lifestyle can make a difference

The role of diet and lifestyle in vascular dementia means it is often more preventable than Alzheimer’s.

However, there is no specific treatment – drugs launched recently are all targeted at Alzheimer’s disease – and average life expectancy is currently just five years from diagnosis (though it tends to develop late in life and people die of other causes).

Vascular dementia may not be reversible, but its progress can be slowed by aggressive preventive medication, like statins to reduce cholesterol, treating high blood pressure, and lifestyle changes such as stopping smoking, losing weight, exercising regularly and eating healthily.

What’s good for the heart is good for the brain.

Dr Mark Porter

Written by Dr Mark Porter