Vascular dementia is the second most common form of dementia after Alzheimer’s disease, affecting roughly one in 10 dementia patients. It occurs when other underlying conditions disrupt blood flow to the brain, resulting in inadequate oxygen and nutrients. “Inadequate blood flow can damage and eventually kill cells anywhere in the body, but the brain is especially vulnerable,” explains the Alzheimer’s Association.
Many factors can put you at heightened risk for vascular dementia, including diabetes, high blood pressure, and more. Additionally, one lesser-known factor—your blood type—can also play a role in your risk level for this condition, experts say. Read on to learn which blood types are most susceptible to vascular dementia-related memory loss, and what you can do to mitigate your risk.
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Your blood type is determined by a group of proteins within your red blood cells, known as antigens. Though there are eight blood groups in total, there are four main blood types which differ based on these particular proteins: A, B, AB, and O. Some people are aware of their blood type, while others are not. However, as Penn Medicine points out, “even if you do know your type, you might not realize that the type might make you more prone to certain medical conditions.”
That’s because the antigens can react differently to various external threats, they say. “When antigens come into contact with substances that are unfamiliar to your body, such as certain bacteria, they trigger a response from your immune system,” explains Douglas Guggenheim, MD, physician at the Abramson Cancer Center Cherry Hill. “The same type of response can occur during a blood transfusion if your donor’s blood type doesn’t match with yours. In that case, your blood cells could clump and cause potentially fatal complications,” he told Penn Medicine.
In fact, your blood type can raise or lower your risk of heart disease, certain types of cancer, stroke, and more. It can also affect your memory, which can raise or lower your risk of dementia.
According to Penn Medicine, having the ABO gene—meaning having type A, B, or AB blood—is associated with an 82 percent increased risk of memory loss. People with type O blood are at lowest risk of memory problems and, subsequently, of dementia.
“One possible reason for this memory loss is the fact that blood type can lead to things like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. These conditions can cause cognitive impairment and dementia,” Penn experts say.
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Because the factors that could link blood type to memory loss are associated with vascular dementia, you may be able to mitigate this increased risk by modifying any other risk factors you may have.
In particular, it’s important to get regular exercise, avoid unnecessary stress, get an adequate night’s sleep (seven to nine hours per night), quit smoking, and maintain a healthy diet and weight. It’s also helpful to visit your physician for regular checkups in which you discuss screening for signs of dementia.
Knowing the signs of vascular dementia is also important. Besides memory loss and confusion, you may experience difficulty concentrating or organizing thoughts, communicating, or planning. Some people with vascular dementia additionally experience restlessness, agitation, depression or apathy, unsteady gait, and an increased urge to urinate, the Mayo Clinic says.
Though there is no cure for vascular dementia, you may be able to slow its progression or improve your symptoms by treating the underlying causes for the condition. Speak with your doctor if you or a loved one are experiencing any of these symptoms.