DementiaRoadmap

Helping primary care to support people with dementia

What is vascular dementia?

December 7 2011

Vascular dementia is the second most common form of dementia after Alzheimer’s disease. This Alzheimer’s Society factsheet outlines the causes, symptoms and treatments available for vascular dementia.

Download the Alzheimer’s Society factsheet What is vascular dementia?

Listen to the audio version of What is vascular dementia?

Vascular dementia affects people in different ways and the progression of the disease also varies. However, people with vascular dementia typically experience:

  • difficulty thinking, concentrating and communicating
  • depression and anxiety accompanying the dementia
  • physical weakness, paralysis or seizures
  • memory loss and periods of severe confusion.

Other symptoms associated with vascular dementia may include:

  • visual mistakes and misperceptions
  • hallucinations and delusions
  • physical symptoms such as difficulties with walking, unsteadiness and incontinence
  • psychological symptoms such as feelings of restlessness and becoming more obsessive.

Types of vascular dementia

The types of vascular dementia are differentiated by the cause and area of the brain that is damaged.

The main types are:

  • Stroke-related dementia
  • Sub-cortical vascular dementia (small vessel disease or Binswanger’s disease)
  • Mixed dementia (vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s disease)

At risk conditions

Certain health conditions can cause or increase damage to the vascular system.

At risk conditions include:

  • high blood pressure
  • heart problems
  • high cholesterol,
  • and diabetes (particularly type II)

It is important that practitioners identify these conditions and treat them at the earliest opportunity. Effective treatment of these conditions may significantly delay or stop the development of vascular dementia.

At risk groups

People from certain ethnic backgrounds are at greater risk of developing vascular dementia.

At ethnic backgrounds include:

  • Indian
  • Bangladeshi
  • Pakistani
  • Sri Lankan
  • African-Caribbean

Effective interventions

The brain damage that causes vascular dementia is irreversible. Nevertheless practitioners can encourage a range of interventions to help slow the progression of the disease, including:

  • prescribe medication to treat any underlying conditions, such as stroke, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes or heart problems
  • encourage the person with dementia to adopt a healthier lifestyle by stopping smoking, taking regular exercise, eating healthily, and drinking alcohol only in moderation
  • refer the person with dementia to rehabilitative support services , such as physiotherapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy, to help the person maximise their opportunities to regain their lost functions.

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