7 Facts about Stroke and Cognitive Impairment

Contributed by: Dennis Fortier, President, Medical Care Corporation

Each year, about 700,000 people in the USA suffer a stroke. While it is certainly true that stroke can be deadly, it is the third leading cause of death behind heart disease and cancer, it can also cause significant cognitive changes in those who survive.

These changes may be subtle and cause mild cognitive impairment or they may be more severe resulting in dementia. Following are 7 interesting facts to help you better understand the impact of stroke.

1. While stroke is the third leading cause of death, it is the second most common cause of cognitive impairment and dementia.

2. Even damage to a small portion of the brain can have serious consequences. In fact, a thimble full of damaged brain due to stroke can cause dementia.

3. Stroke begins after age 50 and can gradually build up in the brain for decades. This gradual accumulation of tiny strokes can interfere progressively with the brain’s function until the individual becomes demented.

4. The risk of developing cognitive impairment is highest in those persons with vascular risk factors. These factors include:
  • High Blood Pressure or Low Blood Pressure
  • High Cholesterol
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries)
  • Minimal physical exercise (less than 2 days/week and 30 mins/session)
  • Smoking
  • Alcohol dependence
  • Prior stroke.
5. The most common types of cognitive problems due to are disturbances of attention, language, memory and executive function. Executive function is the ability to analyze, interpret, plan, organize, and execute complex instructions.

6. The risk of cognitive impairment and dementia, as well as the rate of cognitive decline in cerebrovascular disease, is highly correlated with underlying risk factors for stroke.

7. If left untreated, vascular cognitive impairment and dementia worsen. Annual screening for cognitive impairment in attention, memory and executive function starting at age 50 will help detect gradually accumulating cerebrovascular disease that may otherwise typically be undetected for many years.

A good additional source of information about risks for dementia is PreventAD.com. The site is sponsored by Medical Care Corporation but, like this blog, it is non-commercial and seeks only to educate. This content about stroke was a popular article from a past issue of Ounce of Prevention, the newsletter associated with that site.


  1. Where do we get this annual screen?

  2. Your primary care physician can assess your cognitive function with any number of available assessment methods. The most common is the Mini-Mental State Exam (MMSE) but it is not adequately sensitive to detect early stage problems. More appropriate tools include the MoCa, the AD8, and the MCI Screen.

  3. I really appreciate your post and you explain each and every point very well.Thanks for sharing this information.And I’ll love to read your next post too.

    Disability Products