Vascular dementia is a decline in intellectual ability resulting from diminished blood flow to the brain. Brain cells need a good supply of blood in order to function properly; if this supply is reduced or interrupted even briefly, damage to the brain can occur.
Various conditions can cause or worsen damage to the blood supply to the brain, for example stroke, high blood pressure, heart problems, high cholesterol and diabetes.
There are three different types of vascular dementia:
After Alzheimer's disease, vascular dementia is the next most common form of dementia, affecting some 10-20% of those with dementia. Vascular dementia is often present alongside Alzheimer's disease and becomes more likely in both men and women as they get older.
The most common type of vascular dementia is multi-infarct dementia, caused by a series of small strokes which might not even be noticed by the patient. Approximately 20% of people who suffer stroke will suffer reduced brain function.
Other causes of vascular dementia include:
Because the cardiovascular system is responsible for delivering blood to the brain, many of the risk factors that increase the risk of cardiovascular disease also increase the risk of vascular dementia – for example high cholesterol levels and smoking.
Risk factors include:
The resulting symptoms depend on the part of the brain that was damaged. For example, if the area affected is responsible for movement of an arm or leg, paralysis might occur. Symptoms are often limited to one side of the body.
Signs and symptoms vary and are not always present. They include:
It is important that the underlying condition(s) that are damaging the vascular system and affecting the blood supply to the brain are identified and treated as soon as possible in order to stop or slow down the progression of vascular dementia.
Symptoms often begin suddenly after a stroke, and often progress in steps with sudden reductions in ability each time. However, if the damage to the brain occurs mid-brain, cognitive impairment may resemble Alzheimer's disease in that it is gradual and progressive. Unlike Alzheimer's patients, however, those with vascular dementia often maintain their personality and normal levels of emotional responsiveness until the later stages of the disease.
The outcome depends on whether the patient has more strokes, in which case vascular dementia may get worse. In some cases, symptoms may lessen over time.
Vascular dementia is the second most common cause of dementia after Alzheimer's Disease.
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