News release: Urgent action on dementia needed as population ages

Heart & Stroke calls for immediate prevention initiatives to reduce growing rate of vascular dementia

(Ottawa, ON) — Heart & Stroke applauds federal Minister of Health Ginette Petitpas Taylor and the Public Health Agency of Canada on the launch of “A Dementia Strategy for Canada: Together We Aspire.” The strategy supports measures that increase the contribution of social and built environments to healthy living and adoption of healthy living behaviours. It also calls for research to develop new prevention measures and treatments.

New research reveals a direct connection between heart disease, stroke and vascular dementia, which results from blood vessel (vascular) disease causing damage to the brain. Dementia appears to be far more related to vascular disease than previously realized; vascular disease contributes to at least one-third of dementia cases. As the population ages, vascular disease rates increase, as well as related dementia. This underlines the urgent need for prevention measures, many of which can be enacted now.

“The heart/brain connection is one of our highest priorities,” said Yves Savoie, CEO of Heart & Stroke. “The national dementia strategy will provide focus and generate support for prevention initiatives and research. We need to act quickly to reduce the number of people who are affected, and we need to better understand how to provide the best possible quality of life and support systems for people living with dementia and their caregivers.”

In many cases, vascular disease can be prevented from occurring or worsening by adopting healthier lifestyles. These prevention efforts could reduce the number of people developing dementia in the future. Heart & Stroke is calling on the government to complete its Healthy Eating Strategy and make investments in the built environment, such as active transportation infrastructure (e.g., sidewalks and bike lanes) that can help facilitate physical activity.

“We need more research to fully understand what is happening when dementia occurs and what we can do to reduce its impact. We are particularly excited by the possibility of prevention, delaying the onset or reducing the degree of brain damage, just by adopting healthier lifestyle habits and taking well known heart and stroke medications such as blood pressure pills and drugs used to control irregular heart rhythm (e.g., atrial fibrillation). Prevention is just one area being studied that is offering hope,” said Patrice Lindsay, Heart & Stroke’s director of systems change and stroke program.

The national dementia strategy is expected to improve access to research findings and aid in the adoption of best practices. Heart & Stroke will be publishing its “Canadian Stroke Best Practice Recommendations for Mood, Cognition and Fatigue following Stroke” in the coming weeks. This will assist healthcare professionals in providing the best possible care to people who experience signs of vascular dementia following a stroke.

People living with dementia, including caregivers, were consulted to ensure the national dementia strategy was sensitive to their experiences and needs. Heart & Stroke moderates two online support groups to provide opportunities for survivors and caregivers to share their experiences and gain social and emotional support in a safe, inclusive and respectful community.

Stats – Vascular (blood vessel) disease

  • Nine in 10 people in Canada have at least one risk factor for heart conditions, stroke or vascular cognitive impairment (of which vascular dementia is the most severe form).
  • Over 90,000 people in Canada die of heart conditions, stroke or vascular dementia each year.
  • One person dies every five minutes from heart conditions, stroke or vascular cognitive impairment.

Stats – Vascular cognitive impairment and dementia

  • Vascular cognitive impairment is the second most common underlying cause of dementia and mild cognitive impairment, accounting for up to one-third of the population risk.
  • If we were to cure all cases of vascular disease in the population, one-third of dementia cases would disappear.
  • Vascular dementia most commonly presents along with other forms of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease.
  • People with heart failure are 2.6 times more likely to experience vascular cognitive impairment.
  • Congenital heart disease may triple the risk of early onset vascular cognitive impairment (under age 65) and increase the risk of late onset vascular cognitive impairment by 30%.
  • People with atrial fibrillation (a heart rhythm problem) are 1.4 times more likely to experience vascular cognitive impairment.
  • People with heart valve disease have a 25% increased risk of vascular cognitive impairment.
  • 30% of people who experience a second stroke are at risk of developing vascular cognitive impairment.
About Heart & Stroke

Life. We don’t want you to miss it. That’s why Heart & Stroke leads the fight against heart disease and stroke. Together, we are working to prevent disease, save lives and promote recovery through research, health promotion and public policy. 

For media interviews, please contact:

Joshua Terry, Communications Manager (Ontario) 
416-489-7111, x. 24806