What is Vascular Dementia?

May 14, 2021 | BY PHS Staff

Vascular dementia, the second most common cause of dementia after Alzheimer’s disease, accounts for between five and 10 percent of all cases, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. This disease is marked by a decline in thinking skills caused by conditions that reduce or block blood flow to different areas of the brain, cutting off nutrients and oxygen.

With vascular dementia, changes in cognitive skills sometimes may happen suddenly after a stroke, but these difficulties can also start off as mild and cumulative, gradually worsening as a result of many small strokes. It’s for this reason that experts prefer to refer to this condition as “vascular cognitive impairment,” or VCI, rather than “vascular dementia.”

The changes that take place in the brain with vascular dementia often occur in connection with other types of dementia, including Lewy body and Alzheimer’s. People with vascular dementia tend to wander at night and suffer from other side effects of stroke, such as incontinence and depression. It can be tough to care for a loved one with vascular dementia at home, but thankfully, Alzheimer’s in home care can help.

Symptoms of Vascular Dementia

Vascular dementia affects reasoning, planning, memory, judgment and other thought processes caused by brain damage due to impaired blood flow to the brain, says the Mayo Clinic. You can develop vascular dementia after a stroke but not all strokes bring on vascular dementia. Factors that put you at a higher risk of stroke and heart disease (think: diabetes, high blood pressure, smoking and high cholesterol) also elevate your risk for vascular dementia. It’s important to control those factors to lower that risk. Alzheimer’s home care can help.

Vascular dementia symptoms can mimic other forms of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease. Symptoms include:

  • Confusion
  • Difficulty paying attention or concentrating
  • Inability to organize thoughts or actions
  • Reduced capacity to properly read situations, come up with an effective plan and communicate the plan to other people
  • Trouble deciding what to do next
  • Memory problems
  • Agitation and restlessness
  • Unsteady gait
  • Sudden or frequent urge to urinate
  • Apathy and depression

Vascular dementia symptoms become clear when the person suddenly has a stroke, often showing up with a characteristic pattern of symptoms after a series of ministrokes. These thought process changes are usually fairly noticeable, unlike the gradual decline that comes with Alzheimer’s, for example.

This isn’t to say that vascular dementia can’t develop gradually; in fact, one person can have both vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s disease dementia at the same time. Symptoms are more vague and hard to pinpoint when vascular dementia comes on slowly, in stark contrast with rapid symptom development after stroke.

How to Prevent Vascular Dementia

Keeping up with heart health will go a long way towards reducing your risk for developing vascular dementia. Here’s what you can do:

  • Keep a healthy blood pressure. Make sure it stays in the normal range.
  • Prevent or control diabetes with diet and exercise. Already have diabetes? Keep your glucose levels under control to protect your brain blood vessels.
  • Quit smoking. Smoking damages blood vessels in your brain and elsewhere in your body.
  • Get regular exercise in some form every day.
  • Control your cholesterol with a healthy, low-fat diet and medications, to reduce your risk of strokes and heart attacks that may lead to vascular dementia.

Keep in mind, the risk of vascular dementia rises with age. While rare before age 65, the risk skyrockets by age 90.

If you suspect your loved one is suffering from vascular dementia, take them to the doctor. Tests can be done to first rule out other causes of their memory loss and confusion, like vitamin deficiencies and thyroid conditions.

Contact Preferred HealthStaff

Our professional caregivers have training dealing with those who suffer from vascular dementia. For help with your loved one who has vascular or other types of dementia, contact us toll free at 866-943-9791 or in Fairfield 717-642-8500. We would be happy to discuss our Alzheimer’s care services.