Vascular Dementia
Vascular Dementia

Vascular Dementia Vascular Dementia

Elderly woman sitting next to an elderly man who is holding his head on a bench

Vascular dementia develops when the blood vessels in the brain are damaged by other health conditions. This damage keeps the brain from getting the oxygen it needs. Vascular diseases such as atherosclerosis or high blood pressure contribute to one-fourth to one-half of all cases of dementia. Vascular dementia often occurs in combination with Alzheimer’s disease dementia or other dementias rather than just by itself. Cardiovascular research studies, or studies on the heart and blood vessels, are identifying other potential causes of dementia, such as problems in the heart’s chambers.

Dementia refers to problems with memory, thinking, behavior, language skills, and decision making, beyond what is expected during the healthy aging process. Early signs of vascular dementia can include symptoms such as mood and behavior changes. The decrease in blood flow to the brain that occurs with this dementia can also cause problems with planning, memory, the ability to pay attention, and other thought processes. A healthcare provider may consider the following problems as signs of vascular dementia:

  • Forgetting to pay bills
  • Getting lost in your neighborhood
  • Having difficulty preparing meals
  • Experiencing short-term memory loss

How is vascular dementia diagnosed?

To diagnose vascular dementia and cognitive impairment, your healthcare provider may:

  • Ask about any symptoms you have, such as problems carrying out daily activities
  • Give you brief memory or thinking tests
  • Ask to speak with a relative or friend who knows you well and can answer questions about your daily habits and behavior

To find out if vascular dementia is the cause of any cognitive impairment or other dementia that you experience, your provider will review your medical history, including cardiovascular risk factors such as blood pressure and cholesterol levels. They may also ask about your lifestyle, including eating patterns, physical activity level, sleep health, and whether you are or have been a smoker. They may also order imaging tests.

Diagnosis can take time. It can be hard to tell whether symptoms are a result of blood vessel problems, as is the case with vascular dementia, or whether they are from another cause, such as Alzheimer’s disease.

What causes vascular dementia?

Vascular dementia is caused by conditions that damage the blood vessels in the brain or interfere with blood flow and oxygen delivery to the brain. This oxygen shortage keeps the brain from working as well as it should. For example, a stroke may block blood flow to the brain and lower oxygen levels. Atherosclerosis in the brain’s blood vessels also can lead to vascular dementia.

Other risk factors for vascular dementia include:

How is it treated?

Currently there are no treatments that reverse dementia, but there are ways to manage your symptoms. If you are diagnosed with vascular dementia, your treatment plan may include taking medicine or using medical devices to manage any other conditions that can cause your vascular dementia to get worse. Those other conditions may include high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, or sleep apnea.

Some studies suggest that medicines that improve memory in people living with Alzheimer’s disease might benefit people experiencing early vascular dementia. Other medicines may help manage certain symptoms and behavioral issues associated with vascular dementia.

Your healthcare provider may also recommend that you make heart-healthy lifestyle changes. These include eating a heart-healthy diet, limiting alcohol, getting regular physical activity, aiming for a healthy weightquitting smoking, controlling diabetes, and managing stress.

Understanding Different Types of Dementia

View this handout about the different types of dementia, including vascular dementia, from the National Institute on Aging.

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