Preserving memories by protecting brains

Introducing the Heart & Stroke vascular cognitive impairment council

Your brain relies on healthy blood flow to function at its best. When the blood vessels in your brain don’t get the oxygen they need, you can experience a range of thinking or memory problems known as vascular cognitive impairment.

The effects can vary from mild forgetfulness and word-finding difficulties, to thinking problems that interfere with daily activities such as preparing meals or looking after your finances. The most severe form is vascular dementia.

Having a stroke more than doubles your risk of developing dementia.

New research is revealing more about the relationship between stroke and dementia. What is clear is that stroke increases your risk of cognitive problems and dementia. This problem is increasingly urgent as our aging population means the number of Canadians living with stroke is expected to almost double in the next 20 years.

That’s why Heart & Stroke has identified vascular cognitive impairment as one of six disease areas where we see the greatest potential for impact (scroll down to learn more). By supporting the development of new solutions to prevent and treat vascular cognitive impairment, we’ll give more precious moments back to hundreds of thousands of Canadians.

Council will guide action

The Heart & Stroke vascular cognitive impairment council — half researchers and half community members — bring a range of backgrounds including lived experience of dementia or other cognitive problems (either themselves or in a loved one), policy, technology, philanthropy, and health care.

The group, led by two co-chairs, also reflects geographical representation (rural vs urban and provincial/regional), cultural diversity and first language (English/French). Additional considerations for research members included career stage, research focus and research/work setting, while occupation and specific skillsets were considered for community members.

Starting in January 2018, they will spend two years considering priorities and opportunities in detecting, treating, managing and recovering from vascular cognitive impairment. 

Their knowledge and input will guide Heart & Stroke in determining how we can deliver the greatest impact for Canadians living with vascular cognitive impairment, and their families. 

Meet our co-chairs

Dr. Sandra Black, research co-chair: Dr. Sandra Black is an internationally renowned cognitive and stroke neurologist. She holds the inaugural Brill Chair in Neurology, at the University of Toronto and Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre. A leading clinical trialist in dementia, she is executive director of the Toronto Dementia Research Alliance and holds leadership roles with the Heart & Stroke Foundation Canadian Partnership for Stroke Recovery and Hurvitz Brain Sciences Research Program.

Sandra’s research focuses on cognitive changes in stroke and stroke recovery, and the use of neuroimaging to reveal brain-behaviour relationships in stroke and dementia, among other areas. An Officer of the Order of Canada, she brings tremendous expertise and leadership to the council.

Ms. Debbie Benczkowski, community co-chair: Debbie Benczkowski recently retired from the Alzheimer Society of Canada, where she served as chief operating officer as well as interim chief executive officer on a number of occasions. Debbie is recognized as a leader in the international Alzheimer community. 

Debbie’s mother had vascular cognitive impairment as the result of a stroke, and she provided long distance caregiving to both her parents for many years. Debbie is a recipient of the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal and an Award of Distinction from the Health Charities Coalition Canada, recognizing leadership and/or outstanding support to the charitable health sector in Canada. Debbie is an active community volunteer whose passion for helping others is a strong asset to the council.


Dr. Teresa-Liu Ambrose (B.C.): Canada Research Chair, physical activity, mobility, and cognitive neuroscience; physical therapist, University of British Columbia

Ms. Maura Davies (Sask.): healthcare consultant; former president and CEO, Saskatoon Health Region; family history of heart disease and stroke

Mr. Craig Dover (Nfld.): commercial electrical contractor; lives with congestive heart failure

Dr. Gail Eskes (N.S.): clinical neuropsychologist and past co-chair, Vascular Cognitive Impairment Stroke Best Practice; conducts research on impact of healthy and abnormal brain aging on cognitive abilities and daily function at Dalhousie University

Dr. Edith Hamel (Que.): neurobiologist, conducts research on cerebrovascular pathology and impaired neurovascular coupling responses, Montreal Neurological Institute, McGill University

Dr. David B Hogan (Alta.): Geriatric medicine specialist and researcher, founder - Division of Geriatric Medicine, University of Calgary; Chair, Brenda Strafford Foundation

Dr. Kristen Jacklin (Minn.): medical anthropologist specializing in Indigenous health and in dementia; associate director, Memory Keepers Medical Discovery Team, University of Minnesota and Northern Ontario School of Medicine

Ms. Deborah Kean (Nfld.): clinical occupational therapist specializing in stroke rehabilitation; chair, Stroke Education Working Group and Stroke Special Interest Group, St. John's region

Dr. Maureen Markle-Reid (Ont.): nurse scientist; Canada Research Chair, person-centered interventions for older adults with multimorbidity and their caregivers; scientific director, Aging, Community and Health Research Unit, McMaster University

Ms. Jennifer Monaghan (B.C.): Heart & Stroke Living with Stroke facilitator; peer stroke supporter visitor; patient representative, B.C. Stroke Collaborative 2015-2016; stroke survivor

Ms. Meaghan Sharp (Ont.): director, Cardiovascular and Stroke Program, Northwestern Ontario Regional Stroke Program; lives with heart disease and stroke

Dr. Eric Smith (Alta.): stroke neurologist, Katthy Taylor chair, vascular dementia; medical director, Cognitive Neurosciences Clinic; University of Calgary

About Heart & Stroke mission critical areas

Heart & Stroke has adopted a new framework that will drive progress in what we are calling mission critical areas or MCAs. These are the six heart and stroke disease states that together represent the biggest burden — on Canadians’ health, on the economy and on society. 

The MCAs are not the only areas where Heart & Stroke works, but they reflect where we believe we can have the greatest impact. The six MCAs are:

The work of our six MCA councils will also feed into a strategic planning process underway at Heart & Stroke, to determine our direction as an organization.

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