Vascular Dementia is the second most common type of Dementia that affects your memory, thinking, and behavior caused when part of the brain does not receive enough oxygen caused by poor blood flow or blockage. Find out the current Vascular Dementia causes, symptoms, risks, and treatments that are currently available, as well as Vascular Dementia risks and how to help prevent Vascular Dementia.
What is Vascular Dementia?
Vascular Dementia is the second most common form of Dementia, following Alzheimer’s Disease. Vascular Dementia affects your memory, thinking, and behavior. Vascular Dementia occurs when part of the brain doesn’t receive enough blood carrying the oxygen and the nutrients it needs. This can occur right away when the blood supply is suddenly cut off (during a stroke), or it can happen slowly from a slow blockage.
Studies show that 5%-10% of those living with Dementia have Vascular Dementia. However, it is more common for those living with Vascular Dementia to have mixed Dementia. It is common for Vascular Dementia to go undiagnosed.
Vascular Dementia is the cause of blood flow to the brain. Since symptoms of Vascular Dementia are closely related to other types of Dementia and other diseases, it becomes difficult to diagnose. Examples of Vascular Dementia are:
- Mixed Dementia. The combination of Vascular Dementia combined with another type of Dementia, usually Alzheimer’s Disease.
- Multi-Infarct Dementia. Multi-Infarct Dementia usually occurs after many minor silent blockages that affect the blood flow to certain brain parts. The change is not noticeable right away but starts to show signs and symptoms combined with other changes. Multi-Infarct Dementia is also known as Vascular Cognitive Impairment.
Individuals living with Vascular Dementia live for around 5 years after the first symptom is seen. In most cases, those living with Vascular Dementia will not die from Dementia but a stroke or heart attack.
What is the Cause of Vascular Dementia?
Vascular Dementia occurs when the vessels that supply blood to the brain are blocked or narrowed. Strokes are a common cause because the blood carrying oxygen to the brain is suddenly cut off. While this is a common cause, note that just because you have a stroke does not mean that you will develop Vascular Dementia.
Vascular Dementia can happen suddenly (like with a stroke) or after major surgery or develop slowly.
Other things that cause Vascular Dementia include:
- Blood clotting
- Bleeding from Ruptured Blood Vessels
- Damage to Blood Vessels from things like atherosclerosis, infections, high blood pressure, autoimmune disorder
- Cerebral Autosomal Dominant Arteriopathy with Subcortical infarcts and leukoencephalopathy (CADASIL). Cerebral Autosomal Dominant Arteriopathy with Subcortical infarcts and leukoencephalopathy is a genetic disorder that usually leads to Vascular Dementia. It is passed down from one parent, affecting the blood vessels in the brain’s white matter. You will start to see this in your mid-30s, with migraines, seizures, and severe depression as the main symptoms. Other symptoms may not develop until later in life.
Who is at Risk for Vascular Dementia?
Many risk factors play a role in Vascular Dementia. Risk factors for Vascular Dementia include:
- Age. As you age, your risk of Vascular Dementia increases. It is relatively rare before the age of 65 but rises substantially as individuals age.
- High Blood Pressure. As your blood pressure rises, it puts a lot of extra stress on all your blood vessels throughout your body, thus increasing your risk of vascular problems within your brain.
- Smoking damages blood vessels throughout your body, increasing your risk for Vascular Dementia and atherosclerosis and other circulatory diseases.
- History of Heart attacks, strokes, mini-strokes. If you have a history of heart attacks, strokes, or mini-strokes, you are more likely to develop blood vessel problems in your brain. When a stroke occurs, the brain is damaged, which increases your risk of developing Dementia.
- High Cholesterol and Triglyceride levels. Scientists have determined that elevated levels of Low-density lipoprotein are a significant risk factor for Vascular Disease.
- Diabetes. High glucose levels damage blood vessels throughout the body. If you live with Diabetes, this damage can occur in brain blood vessels, increasing your risk of Vascular Dementia and strokes.
- Atrial Fibrillation. Atrial Fibrillation is an abnormal heart rhythm in the upper chambers of your heart. They begin to beat rapidly and become out of coordination of the lower chambers. When this happens, it increases your risk of stroke because clots can quickly form in the heart that can break off and go to the brain’s blood vessels.
- Atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis occurs when cholesterol and other plaques build up in your arteries. This causes your blood vessels to narrow, increasing your risk of Vascular Dementia because the blood flow is reduced to the brain.
- Obesity / overweight. Obesity increases your risk for Vascular Dementia and all other vascular diseases.
- Family history of Cerebral Autosomal Dominant Arteriopathy with Subcortical infarcts and leukoencephalopathy (CADASIL). CADASIL is a genetic disorder that usually leads to Vascular Dementia. It is passed down from one parent, affecting the blood vessels in the brain’s white matter
Other risks may include:
- Oral Birth Control Pills
- Conditions that cause your blood to thicken or clot easily
- Minimal Physical Activity
- History of Dementia in the family
What are the Symptoms of Vascular Dementia?
Symptoms for Vascular Dementia vary depending on the location and the amount of damaged tissue. These symptoms listed may appear suddenly or be more gradual. It is common for symptoms to worsen after another stroke, heart attack, or surgery. The symptoms of Vascular Dementia may include:
- Trouble carrying out day-to-day activities
- Memory Problems. With Vascular Dementia, short-term memory may not be affected.
- Sundown Syndrome. Sundown Syndrome is when confusion increases at night.
- Stroke symptoms. Weakness / Trouble speaking
- Changes in Personality
- Changes in Mood. Depression and Irritability increase
- Problems with Balance
- Problems with Movement
- Urinary Problems. This affects both continency as well as urgency.
Doctors look for symptoms that progress in stages when diagnosing Vascular Dementia. With those living with Vascular Dementia, problems occur early on with walking and balance. When symptoms suddenly get worse, it is often the sign of a stroke. Whereas with Alzeheimer’s Disease, this occurs later.
How is Vascular Dementia Diagnosed?
Vascular Dementia is one type of Dementia that is often undiagnosed. To diagnose Vascular Dementia, you will undergo a medical history exam and a physical example. You may also do some of the following depending on your healthcare provider.
- Computed Tomography or CT Scan
- FDG-PET Scan
- Electroencephalogram (EEG)
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
- Neuropsychological Assessments
- Neuropsychiatric Evaluation
How is Vascular Dementia Treated?
Vascular Dementia has no cure. Once those living with Vascular Dementia are diagnosed, the goal is to treat the brain’s blood flow conditions. This can help with further damage to the brain tissue. Currently, there are no drugs specifically approved to help treat symptoms of Vascular Dementia.
Vascular Dementia treatments may include:
- Medications. While there are no medications that treat Vascular Dementia, certain medications may help prevent further damage. These include drugs that manage the following:
- Blood Pressure
- Prevent Blood Clotting
- Lifestyle Changes. Undergoing lifestyle changes can help slow Vascular Dementia. These include:
- Healthy Diet
- Becoming Physically Active
- Decreasing or stopping alcohol consumption
- Stop Smoking
- Improving Blood Flow. Some procedures can help improve blood flow to the brain. These include:
- Carotid Endarterectomy
Prevention of Vascular Dementia
Studies show that the health of blood vessels is linked to your heart health. As you keep your heart healthy, you may reduce the risk of Vascular Dementia. To reduce your risk of Vascular Dementia, you may want to do the following.
- Healthy Blood Pressure. Be sure to monitor your blood pressure and keep it in a normal range. If you are experiencing high blood pressure, consult your doctor to manage it.
- Control Diabetes. Try to avoid developing type 2 diabetes by maintaining a healthy diet and exercise routine. This will help decrease the risk of Dementia. If you have Diabetes, be sure to control your glucose levels to protect your blood vessels from damage.
- Quit Smoking. If you smoke, now is the time to quit. Smoking causes damage to your blood vessels throughout your body.
- Be active. Create a workout routine to help you stay physically active. By doing this, you may avoid Vascular Dementia.
- Check your Cholesterol. Be sure to maintain healthy cholesterol levels. If you have high cholesterol, be sure to get the proper medical care to help maintain it. Having your levels in check may reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes, leading to vascular Dementia.
When Should I see my healthcare provider if I think I have Vascular Dementia?
Suppose you think that you or a loved one is living with Vascular Dementia. In that case, it is essential to schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider. They will help determine a treatment plan that is right for you. There may be things available that can help slow the progression of Vascular Dementia.
Once you have Been Diagnosed with Vascular Dementia
Once you have or a loved one has been diagnosed with Vascular Dementia, you will want to talk with your healthcare provider if your symptoms change, get worse, or you are in pain. They may be able to help.
Tips to Meeting With your Healthcare Provider
When you meet with your healthcare provider, you want to get the most out of your visit. Here are some tips to ensure you get all your questions answered and have all the information you need.
- Know the reason you are visiting the doctor.
- Write down all the questions that you want to be answered. This helps you remember them all while meeting with the doctor.
- Bring someone with you. Having someone with you will often help calm you if you are anxious or nervous. They also can help remind you to ask all the questions you have. Having another set of ears enables you to remember what the doctor tells you as well.
- Take notes. Take notes at your appointment. Write down any new diagnosis, any new medicines prescribed (and what they are for), any new treatments, as well as tests you need to take.
- Understand New Medicines. You must understand new medicines prescribed to you and what they do. Talk about the side effects as well.
- Treatments Available. Ask if there are any other treatments available at this time.
- Follow-up Appointments. If you make a follow-up appointment or an appointment with another provider, write it down. Write down the date, time, and purpose of the visit.
- How to Contact your healthcare provider. Know how to contact your healthcare provider if you have questions.
- Care Summary. Go home with an after-visit care summary. This serves as a reminder of what was discussed at your appointment.
Living With Vascular Dementia
Vascular Dementia has no cure. It is a progressive disease that worsens over time; however, the rate at which it progresses varies by individuals living with Vascular Dementia.
Some individuals living with Vascular Dementia may require a high level of care due to losing their mental and physical abilities. It is usual for family members to care for their loved ones with Vascular Dementia when symptoms first develop. As Vascular Dementia progresses, more specialized care may be required.
There are respite programs, adult day care programs, and long-term care facilities specializing in caring for those living with Dementia.
Talk with your healthcare provider to recommend the right caregiver option for your situation.
Common Questions About Vascular Dementia
#1. Why is it challenging to diagnose Vascular Dementia?
It is often challenging to diagnose Vascular Dementia, because it depends on the size of the blockage or the area that is affected in the brain. Suppose a small portion is involved in the area that controls your memory. In that case, you may just become a little bit more forgetful, but you can still function as expected in your life. In part, it goes unnoticed. But, if larger areas are affected, this may affect bigger things like solving problems or extensive memory impairments. This will be more noticeable but may be classified as a different type of Dementia.
#2. What is the Difference Between Vascular Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease?
Vascular Dementia is caused by reduced blood flow that supplies oxygen to the brain, affecting your thinking and memory problems. This is due to blocked blood vessels or ones that have burst.
Alzheimer’s Disease is caused by protein build-ups that occur in the brain that form plaques and tangles that affect the connections between nerve cells in the brain, leading to the death of brain cells.
While both of these types of Dementia affect memory, thinking, and behavior, their causes are very different.
#3. What is the prognosis if you are living with Vascular Dementia?
Regardless of the type of Dementia that you are living with, it is a progressive disease that worsens over time. Dementia affects individuals differently. While some living with Vascular Dementia may see a prolonged decline, others may decline at a much more rapid pace.
Currently, there is no cure for Vascular Dementia. You can do things that may reduce your risk factors or help slow its progression.
#4. What is the Life Expectancy of those living with Vascular Dementia?
Like all forms of Dementia, the life expectancy of those living with Vascular Dementia vary from person to person. The average life of those diagnosed with Vascular Dementia is about five years after symptoms start to show, which is less than Alzheimer’s Disease.
Many individuals that are living with Vascular Dementia will die of a heart attack or a stroke rather than Dementia itself.
#5. Do Strokes Cause Dementia?
While strokes do not officially cause Vascular Dementia, oftentimes, Vascular Dementia does follow a stroke or several mini-strokes. There is a growing number of people who have had strokes and now have Dementia. This is more common in older ages but can be diagnosed in those who are younger as well but not typically seen.
#6. Is Vascular Dementia becoming more common?
Researchers are beginning to conclude that Vascular Dementia will become more common in the next 20 years because of the following factors:
- Those over the age of 65 are increasing
- Individuals are living longer with Chronic Disease. These include:
- Heart Attacks
Key Points to Remember about Vascular Dementia
- Vascular Dementia is caused by damage to brain tissue due to the lack of blood flow. This can be caused by blood clots, ruptured vessels, strokes, or narrowing of blood vessels that supply blood to the brain.
- Symptoms of Vascular Dementia may include problems with memory, mobility, concentration, behavior, and confusion.
- It is common for Vascular Dementia to go undiagnosed.
- It is challenging to diagnose Vascular Dementia because the damage is determined by the size of the blocked area that is affecting the brain. If only a tiny space is blocked that influences a small portion of your memory; it is often misdiagnosed as just being forgetful.
- Vascular Dementia is a progressive disease that worsens over time. While there are no current treatments, surgeries or lifestyle changes can help slow progression.
- Researchers believe that within the next 20 years, more individuals will be living with Vascular Dementia.
- Eventually, full-time care may be needed.
- The life expectancy of someone living with Vascular Dementia varies. The average life of those diagnosed with Vascular Dementia is about five years after symptoms start to show, which is a shorter life expectancy than those living with Alzheimer’s Disease.
If you or a loved one think that you are living with Vascular Dementia, be sure to consult your doctor right away.