Up to 60% of all stroke survivors develop memory and thinking problems within a year, and one-third go on to develop dementia within five years, according to a new American Stroke Association scientific statement.
“The numbers are staggering, right?” said Dr. Andrew Freeman, director of cardiovascular prevention and wellness at National Jewish Health in Denver.
“This is a call to action to up our game and focus on prevention,” said Freeman, who was not part of the scientific committee who prepared the statement.
An estimated 9.4 million American adults — about 3.6% of the US adult population — report having had a stroke, according to 2023 statistics from the American Heart Association.
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“Cognitive impairment is an often under-reported and under-diagnosed but yet very common condition stroke survivors frequently deal with,” said Dr. Nada El Husseini, an associate professor of neurology at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina, in a statement.
About 40% of the survivors of stroke have mild cognitive impairment that does not meet the diagnostic criteria for dementia. Mild or not, the mental difficulties can seriously affect quality of life, said El Husseini, who chaired the writing committee for the statement.
“Cognitive impairment after stroke ranges from mild impairment to dementia and may affect many aspects of life, such as remembering, thinking, planning, language and attention, as well as a person’s ability to work, drive or live independently,” El Husseini said.
Cognitive impairment is most common within the first two weeks after a stroke, the statement said. Mental decline may go hand in hand with other conditions associated with a stroke such as behavioral and personality changes, depression, physical disability and disruption in sleep, all of which can contribute to a lower quality of life.
The American Stroke Association’s statement did offer some good news: About 20% of people who experience mild cognitive impairment after a stroke fully recover their cognitive function, typically within the first six months.