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Stroke survivors twice as likely to be living with dementia, analysis finds

Stroke survivors in Wales are more than twice as likely to be diagnosed with dementia than the general population, according to new British Heart Foundation (BHF) analysis.

The analysis for Wales shows that the age and gender-standardised rate of dementia is 40 per 1,000 people among those who have survived a stroke compared to 18 per 1,000 people in the general population.

In total, an estimated 6.7 per cent of stroke survivors in Wales – around 5,400 people – are living with dementia. The number of people diagnosed with both conditions has nearly doubled in the past decade, largely due to greater awareness and better diagnosis of dementia.

Of those who develop dementia after a stroke, around three quarters are diagnosed with vascular dementia.

As a leading research charity, BHF Cymru says the true scale of the relationship between stroke and vascular dementia is now emerging as recording of dementia improves. It says research is urgently needed to find new ways to prevent and treat the diseases.

Adam Fletcher, Head of BHF Cymru, said: “Improvements in diagnosis and treatment mean that people in Wales are more likely than ever to survive and recover from a stroke. But these concerning figures show that stroke survivors are at an increased risk of being diagnosed with dementia, which is incredibly difficult for people and their families to live with.

“Research has led to significant progress in treating heart attacks and stroke, but little progress has been made in treating dementia. Funding research could prove crucial in finding new ways to prevent and treat this devastating disease.”

Vascular dementia is the second most common type of dementia and occurs where there’s a problem with the blood supply to an area of the brain. It often happens following a stroke. The cells in the affected area of the brain don’t get enough oxygen or nutrients, and they begin to die.

Vascular dementia, stroke and heart attack share many of the same risk factors including high blood pressure, and diabetes.

While vascular dementia is associated with getting older, it can affect people of all ages. If you develop the condition and are under 65 years old, this is known as ‘young onset’ or ‘early onset’ vascular dementia.

The BHF is funding nearly £10 million of research into vascular dementia but says the area has been neglected in the past.

Professor Joanna Wardlaw from the University of Edinburgh is leading a clinical trial into potential treatments for a type of stroke, called lacunar stroke, which is caused by a blood vessel problem that may also cause up to half of all dementias. The BHF-funded trial is finding out if two drugs currently used to treat other heart and circulatory diseases could be used to treat lacunar strokes and potentially prevent some cases of dementia. It’s one of only five trials into vascular dementia worldwide.

Professor Wardlaw said: “There is mounting evidence that stroke could be responsible for significant numbers of people developing dementia. Greater research is urgently needed in this currently neglected area. Our trial could help to find new and effective ways of treating vascular dementia, providing a lifeline for the thousands of people living with this debilitating disease.

Symptoms for vascular dementia can include concentration problems such as losing interest in what is happening around you; mood and personality changes; difficulty with daily activities and feeling confused. The condition is progressive, meaning that it will get worse over time.”

By 2050, the number of people living with vascular dementia in this country is predicted to double.

To find out more about the BHF’s campaign to raise money to beat the heartbreak caused by vascular dementia and other heart and circulatory diseases visit www.bhf.org.uk