Dementia is a generalized term used to describe a collection of symptoms that impact memory, communication, and other cognitive functions. The Alzheimer’s Association recognizes 11 different types of dementia, with Alzheimer’s disease being the most common. The second most common form of dementia is vascular dementia. Learn more about vascular dementia, the symptoms, and how to reduce your risk in this blog from The Bristal.
What is Vascular Dementia?
Perhaps not as well-known as Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia is caused by reduced blood flow to the brain. Conditions that impact blood flow to the brain include blood clots and strokes. Additionally, high blood pressure, certain autoimmune diseases, and atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) can also damage blood vessels within the brain, leading to vascular dementia. A majority of patients with vascular dementia are also diagnosed with another type of dementia – like Alzheimer’s disease or mixed dementia.
What are the Symptoms of Vascular Dementia?
The symptoms of vascular dementia can vary depending on what area of the brain has been impacted by blood loss. Symptoms can appear suddenly, or they may gradually worsen over time – it depends on what has restricted blood flow to the brain.
Many of the symptoms listed below are similar to other types of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. The difference between the vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s is what causes the cognitive impairment. Alzheimer’s disease is caused by the build-up of amyloid plaques in the brain, which disrupts cell function, while damage to blood vessels from reduced blood flow causes vascular dementia.
General symptoms of vascular dementia may include:
- Difficulty focusing/poor concentration
- Difficulty organizing thoughts
- Difficulty with executive functioning skills (i.e. analyzing situations, developing a plan, communicating plan to others)
- Thinking has slowed – trouble with making decisions
- Poor gait and/or balance
- Depressed mood or agitation
What are the Risk Factors for Vascular Dementia?
Since it is caused by vascular diseases like heart disease and stroke, vascular dementia shares the same risk factors. While things like age and family history cannot be modified, there are plenty of lifestyle changes you can make to lower your risk.
Risk factors for vascular dementia include:
- Age. Adults over the age of 65 are at an increased risk for developing vascular dementia.
- Previous heart attacks, strokes, or ministrokes. All three conditions increase the risk for damage to the blood vessels in your brain.
- Atherosclerosis. The hardening and narrowing of your arteries caused by a build up of plaque can reduce blood flow to your brain.
- High blood pressure. Uncontrolled blood pressure can damage your blood vessels and is a risk factor for both heart attacks and strokes.
- Diabetes. In addition to increasing your risk for heart disease and stroke, poorly controlled diabetes can also damage your blood vessels.
- Smoking and obesity. Both increase your risk for heart attacks and strokes. Smoking also damages your blood vessels.
Visit our Alzheimer’s and Memory Care blog page to find more resources on dementia and caregiving, including tips for caregivers, information on specific behaviors and effects, and more.