Vascular dementia is the second most common form of dementia after Alzheimer disease. It's caused when decreased blood flow damages brain tissue. Blood flow to brain tissue may be reduced by a partial blockage or completely blocked by a blood clot.
Symptoms of vascular dementia may develop gradually, or may become apparent after a stroke or major surgery, such as heart bypass surgery or abdominal surgery.
Dementia and other related diseases and conditions are hard to tell apart because they share similar signs and symptoms. Although vascular dementia is caused by problems with blood flow to the brain, this blood flow problem can develop in different ways. Examples of vascular dementia include:
The effect of decreased or no blood flow on the brain depends on the size and location of the area affected. If a very small area in a part of the brain that controls memory is affected, for example, you may be "forgetful" but it doesn't necessarily change your ability to carry on normal activities. If a larger area is affected, you may have trouble thinking clearly or solving problems, or greater memory problems that do change your ability to function normally.
Researchers think that vascular dementia will become more common in the next few decades because:
Vascular dementia is caused by a lack of blood flow to a part of the brain. Blood flow may be decreased or interrupted by:
CADASIL (cerebral autosomal dominant arteriopathy with sub-cortical infarcts and leukoencephalopathy) is a genetic disorder that generally leads to dementia of the vascular type. One parent with the gene for CADASIL passes it on to a child, which makes it an autosomal-dominant inheritance disorder. It affects the blood vessels in the white matter of the brain. Symptoms, such as migraine headaches, seizures, and severe depression, generally start when a person is in his or her mid-30s; but, symptoms may not appear until later in life.
Risk factors for vascular dementia include risk factors for the conditions associated with vascular dementia, such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and atherosclerosis:
The symptoms of vascular dementia depend on the location and amount of brain tissue involved. Vascular dementia symptoms may appear suddenly after a stroke, or gradually over time. Symptoms may get worse after another stroke, a heart attack, or major surgery. These are signs and symptoms of vascular dementia
In addition to a complete medical history and physical exam, your healthcare provider may order some of the following:
Vascular dementia can't be cured. The main goal is to treat the underlying conditions that affect the blood flow to the brain. This can help cut the risk for further damage to brain tissue.
Such treatments may include:
Vascular dementia is a progressive disease that has no cure, but the rate at which the disease progresses can vary. Some people with vascular dementia may eventually need a high level of care due to the loss of mental and physical abilities. Family members may be able to care for a person with vascular dementia early on. But if the disease progresses, the person may need more specialized care.
Respite programs, adult daycare programs, and other resources can help the caregiver get some time away from the demands of caring for a loved one with vascular dementia.
Long-term care facilities that specialize in the care of people with dementias, Alzheimer's, and other related conditions are often available if a person affected by vascular dementia can no longer be cared for at home. Your healthcare provider can recommend caregiver resources.
People with vascular dementia and their caregivers should talk with their healthcare providers about when to call them. They will likely advise you to call if symptoms become worse (such as obvious changes in behavior, personality, memory, or speech) or if new symptoms appear, such as sudden weakness or confusion.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:
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