Although epidemiological studies are limited by diagnostic uncertainties, they suggest that stroke increases the risk of dementia. The mortality rate is higher in vascular dementia (VaD) than in Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Community-based studies have provided several consistent findings: (i) age dependence with prevalence rates doubling every 5 years, (ii) a higher frequency in men and (iii) nation-to-nation differences. The prevalence of VaD ranges from 2.2% in 70- to 79-year-old women, to 16.3% in men >80 years. One sixth of acute stroke patients have preexisting dementia. The incidence of VaD has been studied much less extensively than that of AD, and substantial variations in the incidence rates have been observed: annual incidence rates (per 100,000) range from 20 to 40 between 60 and 69 years of age and from 200 to 700 over 80. The incidence rate of VaD declined over the last 2 decades, probably as a consequence of effective stroke prevention. It is generally assumed that risk factors for VaD are those of stroke, with arterial hypertension as leading factor, followed by atherosclerotic disease, low education level, alcohol abuse and heart disease. Stroke characteristics, such as lacunar infarction and left-sided hemispheric lesions, are major determinants of VaD. The cerebrovascular lesions are likely to be the only cause of dementia in strategic infarcts, in lacunar state, in hereditary cystatin C amyloid angiopathy and in CADASIL. However, white matter changes, and associated Alzheimer pathology, which are both frequent in this age category, may also contribute to the cognitive decline.

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