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Stroke and Cerebrovascular Disease as Factors in Dementia

A 2011 joint statement from the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association addressed the role of damage to blood vessels in the brain in causing mild cognitive impairment and dementia. This statement is supported by the American Academy of Neurology and the Alzheimer's Association and is summarized in very readable language on the Alzheimer's Association website, which states:

  • The diagnosis of dementia or mild cognitive impairment is confirmed by neurocognitive testing, which involves several hours of written or computerized tests that provide detailed evaluation of specific thinking skills such as judgment, planning, problem-solving, reasoning and memory.

  • Brain imaging shows evidence of a recent stroke or other vascular changes in the brain in regions that are consistent with the findings of neuropsychological assessment.

  • There is no evidence that nonvascular factors play a significant role.

The original joint statement also emphasized

  • the importance of using standardized quantitative assessment measures rather than relying on qualitative descriptions of symptoms

  • the need for evaluating multiple cognitive domains in a systematic way

There is evidence that individuals who show early deficits from stroke or other vascular conditions, as well as those with evidence of residual mild cognitive impairment, can improve and regain cognitive function that had been lost initially. A proper neuropsychological evaluation takes time to administer and complete but is an essential step in aiding diagnosis and in guiding treatment. Working closely with your neurologist is also essential. Both of the links listed provide additional information about risk factors and healthy living options to lower those risk factors.

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