Vascular dementia

This occurs when an artery within the brain becomes narrowed or damaged as a result of chronic high blood pressure. This constant pressure weakens the artery which then ruptures or becomes blocked by a blood clot.

The problem with this is that blood is unable to transport vital nutrients and oxygen to the brain which causes certain brain cells to die. The end result is a stroke.

A stroke affects the body in many different ways, one of these being the cognitive functions of the brain. The end result is damage to the person’s speech, memory and reasoning.

This is known as vascular dementia.

Is this the same as Alzheimer’s disease?

No. It is the second most common form of dementia after Alzheimer’s and in fact, some people with this also have vascular dementia.

But there are differences between the two. Vascular dementia is usually caused by a stroke (and high blood pressure) whereas Alzheimer’s is caused by several factors (e.g. age, build up of proteins in the brain, genetics etc).

Someone with vascular dementia still retains some of their cognitive abilities whereas a person with Alzheimer’s loses these and their personality as well.

Vascular dementia is a progressive disease which means that it will worsen over time. But, there is treatment available which can slow down the rate of progression.

Causes of vascular dementia

High blood pressure is a factor but others include a stroke, brain infarction and arteriosclerosis.

There are risk factors for these causes which include:

  • Overweight/obese
  • Smoking
  • High fat diet
  • Lack of exercise
  • Diabetes
  • Excessive alcohol consumption

These are also triggers for high blood pressure as well.

Symptoms of vascular dementia

The problem with this disease is that the symptoms can either appear suddenly or develop slowly over a period of time. They include:

  • Stroke like symptoms, e.g. paralysis on one side of the body
  • Periods of confusion
  • Depression
  • Increasing difficulty with cognitive tasks which require reasoning, planning and judgement.
  • Personality changes
  • Apathy
  • Poor concentration
  • Poor balance/co-ordination

Some people will find that they have difficulty walking or maintaining their balance whereas others will find it hard to remember things or concentrating on a task. The effects of this depend upon which area of the brain has been affected.

Can you reduce the risk of developing vascular dementia?

It is possible to do so but it means having a look at and changing aspects of your lifestyle. This means reviewing your diet to see if you can switch to healthier alternatives, taking exercise, stopping smoking (if you smoke) and reducing your alcohol intake.

If you are overweight or obese then try to reduce this to a healthy level.

The biggest risk factor is a stroke so you need to prevent the risk of this happening by lowering your blood pressure -if it is high and checking your cholesterol levels. If you have high blood pressure and/or high cholesterol levels then aim to get these levels down.

Treatment for vascular dementia

This condition cannot be cured but the rate of progression can be slowed. This means treating the cause of the dementia.

If your vascular dementia is caused by a stroke then your treatment will be focused upon that and preventing the risk of a further stroke.

There is evidence to show that drugs used to treat Alzheimer’s disease are effective in some cases of vascular dementia. But this is likely to be due to the fact that some people with vascular dementia also suffer from Alzheimer’s disease.

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