By Daniel J. Vance


  "In the United States there are 5.6 million cases of dementia of which an estimated 20 percent are of vascular origin. This (20 percent), however, is but the tip of the iceberg," said Dr. Don B. Smith, National Stroke Association (NSA) spokesperson and director of the Colorado Neurological Institute.

  "Dementia" is the medical term for persons experiencing a sustained decline in their intellectual levels, usually involving a considerable deterioration of memory, judgment, language, abstract thought, and behavior. It's a mental disability. Persons with dementia such as Alzheimer's disease may wander the streets lost, not recognize family and friends, and lose the ability to carry out basic work tasks.

  The 20 percent of dementia cases "of vascular origin" typically stem from a stroke or a series of strokes. It involves a blood clot or broken blood vessels that interrupt blood flow in the brain, leading to brain damage. Vascular dementia, the kind Smith cites, is second as a form of dementia only to Alzheimer's disease. While not in the public eye, it can be as disabling as Alzheimer's disease.

  "Persons with vascular dementia lose their ability to remember things, may have some change in personality, and may have what looks like depression," said Smith. "They also may have difficulties with calculations, solving problems or planning."

  The estimated number of cases is only the "tip of the iceberg" because vascular dementia and Alzheimer's disease often co-exist in the same individual. Besides the undiagnosed cases, it's also impossible to count the number of stroke victims affected by cognitive impairment that stops just short of clinical dementia.

  "Treatment of stroke risk factors (such as controlling blood pressure) can reduce the risk of dementia as well as the risk of stroke," said Dr. Smith.

  As for vascular dementia itself, the Food and Drug Administration as yet does not have an approved treatment plan. At least one promising medication under review, donepezil hydrochloride, also has been used to treat Alzheimer's disease. The drug prevents a brain chemical used in memory and learning from breaking down.

  Since stroke is the leading cause of adult disability, and vascular dementia one of its many disabling after-effects, you now have two more compelling reasons to monitor your blood pressure, watch your diet, exercise, quit smoking and control cholesterol levels.

  For more information on vascular dementia and stroke, visit the National Stroke Association website at www.stroke.org.

  [Contact Mr. Vance through www.danieljvance.com]