Vascular dementia is when part of the brain receives reduced blood flow and oxygen. Brain damage from this can lead to problems with reasoning, memory, judgment, and thought processes in older adults.
Caring for a loved one with vascular dementia can be stressful and challenging. You can opt for a supportive environment like memory care to ensure a better quality of life with meaning, purpose, independence, and safety.
Unfortunately, you can’t cure vascular dementia. But you can control and treat underlying risk factors to improve outcomes and help postpone or prevent further decline.
What Is Vascular Dementia?
After Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia is the second most common form of dementia in older adults. Decreased blood flow to the brain damages brain tissue, with symptoms developing gradually or after a stroke.
Lack of blood flow can result from a blood clot, blood vessel rupture, and narrowing or hardening of blood vessels. Changes from decreased oxygen and nutrients to the brain include personality, behavior, and physical symptoms.
Vascular dementia can occur on its own or with Alzheimer’s disease. When combines, mixed dementia presents with symptoms of vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Multi-infarct dementia occurs when repeated small blockages affect the blood flow to a part of the brain. The changes caused aren’t immediate, but symptoms of the combined effect can cause impairment.
Causes of Vascular Dementia
Reduced blood flow and damage to the blood vessels that supply the brain with oxygen and nutrients have several causes. These can include:
- Narrowing or damaged blood vessels can result from atherosclerosis (abnormal aging of blood vessels), high blood pressure, and diabetes.
- Blood clots
- Hemorrhagic stroke from a ruptured blood vessel
Symptoms of Vascular Dementia
Symptoms of vascular dementia can vary in individuals and can depend on the location of blood flow impairment, amount of brain tissue damage, and severity of blood vessel damage. Signs and symptoms of vascular dementia can include:
- Trouble carrying out daily tasks
- Problems with concentration and communication
- Difficulty following and carrying out instructions
- Memory problems such as general forgetfulness
- Poor judgment
- Sudden weakness and trouble with speech (stroke symptoms)
- Personality and mood changes such as depression, irritability, and anger
- Problems with movement and balance
- Urinary problems, such as urgency or incontinence
Risk Factors for Vascular Dementia
Risk factors associated with vascular dementia include the following:
- Age: Your risk of vascular dementia increases with age.
- Heart attacks, strokes, or ministrokes: It’s thought that a quarter to one-third of strokes results in some degree of dementia.
- Abnormal aging of blood vessels (atherosclerosis): Damage or narrowing of blood vessels can reduce blood flow to your brain.
- High cholesterol: Elevated levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) are associated with an increased risk of vascular dementia.
- High blood pressure: Puts extra stress on the blood vessels in the brain.
- Diabetes: High sugar levels damage blood vessels in the brain and can increase your risk of stroke and vascular dementia.
- Smoking: Directly damages your blood vessels.
- Obesity: This is a known risk factor for vascular diseases.
- Atrial fibrillation: Increases your risk of stroke because it causes blood clots to form in the heart that can break off and go to the brain’s blood vessels.
Can You Reverse Vascular Dementia?
Damage to the brain is not reversible. But you can take steps to prevent further damage and slow vascular dementia progression. Treatment and prevention of vascular dementia can include:
- Treat underlying conditions such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol to help prevent strokes.
- Prevent or control diabetes to protect the blood vessels in the brain.
- Adopt lifestyle changes to slow the onset of symptoms, such as a healthy diet, regular exercise, and quitting smoking.
- Therapy (speech or physical) to regain function after a stroke.
- Use medication to address and reduce cognitive symptoms of vascular dementia.
- Take medications for problems with blood clotting.
The outlook for untreated vascular dementia is not good. The conditions can seem to improve until another stroke that further affects brain function, memory, and independence. Death can result from stroke, infection, or heart disease without treatment.
Diagnosis of Vascular Dementia
A healthcare provider can diagnose vascular dementia based on your symptoms, medical history, and results from the following tests:
- Blood pressure
- Blood sugar
- Neurological exam
- Neuropsychological tests to assess your cognitive abilities
- Brain imaging: Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computerized tomography (CT) scan.
Support for Residents with Dementia
Because of its progressive nature, older adults with vascular dementia may require specialized care, such as memory care available in senior living communities.
Contact All American Assisted Living at Washington Township to learn more about Rose Lane, a unique community for residents with Alzheimer’s and other cognitive challenges.