What is vascular dementia?

What is vascular dementia?

Vascular dementia affects roughly 150,000 people in the UK

Vascular dementia is the second most common type of dementia, second to Alzheimer’s disease. Vascular dementia affects an estimated 150,000 people in the UK.

Dementia is a syndrome that affects the functioning of the brain; typically causing loss of memory, language and problem-solving abilities. With vascular dementia, it tends to worsen over time.

Read on to find out more information about the types, causes and symptoms of vascular dementia or contact us today to speak to a member of our team about residential care at Highpoint.

What is vascular dementia?

Vascular dementia occurs when there isn’t an adequate blood supply to the brain as a result of small blood clots, blocked arteries or damaged blood vessels.

In order for the brain to function properly, brain cells need to receive a constant flow of blood via the brain’s vascular system. If any of the vessels working in the vascular system become damaged, this damages the vascular system. If blood cannot get to the brain cells, then they will die.

If brain cells begin to die, then this can create issues with memory and affect cognitive ability; which eventually may seriously impact a person’s life.

What causes vascular dementia?

Vascular dementia is caused by blocked or damaged blood vessels and arteries in the brain that prevent the brain cells from receiving the blood that they need.

A stroke can lead to vascular dementia because during a stroke, the blood supply going to part of the brain is cut off temporarily or permanently, killing the brain tissue.

When blood vessels become damaged or blocked, this is often linked to underlying conditions such high blood pressure, high cholesterol (which can also increase the risk of a heart attack) diabetes or as a result of lifestyle factors i.e. obesity or smoking.

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle can potentially reduce the risk of developing vascular dementia later down the line but it isn’t certain as to how much emphasis can be placed on this, as problems can occur for a number of reasons that are out of our control.

Is vascular dementia hereditary?

In most cases, vascular dementia is not a hereditary disease. However, certain genes may increase the risk of vascular dementia in the same way that certain genes increase the risk of high blood pressures, strokes and heart disease.

Types of vascular dementia

Stroke-related dementia

Vascular dementia can be caused by a stroke as strokes cut off the blood supply to part of the brain. Usually a stroke is the result of a narrowed blood vessel that is blocked by a clot which could have formed in the brain or been carried to the brain from the heart (as a result of heart disease).

The severity of a stroke is dependent on the location of the blocked vessel and if the blood supply has been interfered with briefly or permanently.

Post-stroke dementia

A severe stroke can leave a blood vessel permanently blocked or cut off if blocked by a clot. 20% of people who have strokes develop post-stroke dementia within half a year. Not only does a permanent blockage create the risk of further strokes but it also increases the risk of dementia.

Single-infarct and multi-infarct dementia

If blood flow to the brain is cut off for a few minutes or more, then this will kill off an area of brain tissue that is known as an infarct. If this infarct is an important area of the brain then dementia can develop (single-infarct dementia).

However, it is more common that a number of small strokes can form a number of infarcts and dementia develops as a result of damage by all of the infarcts (multi-infarct dementia).

Subcortical dementia

Tiny blood vessels in the brain can become diseased and deform, making it very difficult to transport blood through them and as a result, this can damage nerve fibres (white matter) in the brain and cause infarcts.

This is known as subcortical dementia and is considered to be the most common type of vascular dementia.

As subcortical dementia develops deeper in the brain than stroke damage, this means that people with this form of dementia may have different symptoms than those who have developed dementia as a result of a stroke or multiple strokes.

Mixed dementia

10% of people living with dementia are said to have mixed dementia which means the dementia they suffer with is a result of both Alzheimer’s and vascular disease. Symptoms of mixed dementia may be typical of Alzheimer’s or vascular dementia, or both.

What are symptoms of vascular dementia?

At an early stage, symptoms may not be as difficult to handle but eventually may worsen to the point where the person requires full-time care.

The most common symptoms of vascular dementia

  • Difficulty concentrating.
  • Difficulty walking and maintaining balance.
  • Confusion or disorientation.
  • Slow thought processing.
  • Mood, personality and/or behavioural changes.
  • Problems with reasoning and understanding.
  • Memory and language loss – similar to Alzheimer’s disease.

Symptoms of vascular dementia can inhibit day to day activities and sufferers will often struggle to manage daily tasks and interactions.

Eventually, symptoms may worsen to the point where the person requires full-time care.

How can I find out if I or my loved one has vascular dementia?

There is not one set test to assess whether or not one has vascular dementia as multiple tests will need to be done.

Symptoms will first need to be assessed to see if they correlate with typical symptoms of vascular dementia. The individual’s medical history will also need to be examined to see if there have been any strokes in the past or factors that could be related to vascular dementia causes.

Individuals will also need to have their cognitive processing tested and this typically means completing a number of tasks and answering questions.

Finally, a brain scan such as an MRI or CT will be conducted to examine the brain and see if there are any changes and abnormalities.

Is vascular dementia reversible?

Currently, there is no cure for vascular dementia as the damage to the brain is irreversible. However, there are ways to manage the disease and treat it, enabling people with vascular dementia to live satisfying lives.

Can you treat vascular dementia?

Although vascular dementia cannot be cured, there are treatments that can sometimes slow it down by aiming to tackle the underlying cause.

It might be as simple as adopting a healthier lifestyle regime; changing diet, exercising, quitting smoking and cutting out alcohol.

There are also medicines you can take to treat high blood pressure and forms of therapy such as physiotherapy and psychotherapy to help reduce the impact of problems in day to day living.

What should I be prepared for if I or my loved one has vascular dementia?

If you or your loved one has been diagnosed with vascular dementia, then you should be aware that it is likely that the condition will get worse over time and care of some kind will typically be needed; whether that’s full-time care in the future or part-time support.

If you or a loved one has received a vascular dementia diagnosis, remember that there is support out there and you are not on your own. There are many voluntary organisations and workers who advise and support those suffering with vascular dementia.

You can find out more information about vascular dementia care at Highpoint Care here or contact us and a member of our team would love to talk to you and answer any questions you have.

Return to top