About Alzheimer's & Dementia
What is Vascular Dementia?
Vascular dementia is the second most common type of dementia occurring in the population. It’s caused by an interruption of blood flow to the brain and the resulting death of brain cells responsible for regular functioning. Typically, it’s a series of strokes or a blockage in the arteries that creates this interruption of blood flow to the brain.
Common symptoms include memory loss, confusion, hallucinations and problems with visual perception. Additional symptoms coordinate with the location of the event that has taken place in the brain (E.g., loss of strength in a particular area of the body or drooping of the eyelids).
Vascular dementia symptoms often appear suddenly following a major stroke or leakage of blood in the brain, but can also appear gradually from a series of smaller strokes. Symptoms tend to follow a step-wise progression.
It is considered the most preventable type of dementia because it is so closely related to cardiovascular health.
What are the risk factors?
Risk factors tend to mirror those for cardiovascular disease, such as smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, physical inactivity, consumption of fatty foods and some influence based on the person’s ethnic origin (more common in Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Sri Lankan, and African- Caribbean persons).
The risk of developing vascular dementia can be reduced by keeping blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol and body weight within a healthy range. It is also recommended to make healthy lifestyle choices including avoidance of smoking and limiting alcohol intake.
How is it diagnosed?
Diagnosis of vascular dementia is made based on a combination of the person’s symptoms, medical history, current health and lifestyle, blood tests, imaging tests and cognitive assessment. Following the initial blood tests to rule out reversible causes of dementia, a physician will make a referral to a specialist for cognitive tests to assess attention, planning and thinking. The specialist may also carry out brain scans before arriving at a diagnosis. Further investigation into the person’s condition will aim to identify other conditions that may be contributing to the progression of vascular dementia, such as high blood pressure, heart problems, diabetes and high cholesterol.
If there is any family history of vascular dementia or related conditions (such as cardiovascular disease), the physician should be notified.
Consult a doctor if there is a sudden onset of symptoms, such as slurred speech, weakness on one side of the body or blurred vision - even if they are only temporary. These symptoms may be caused by temporary interruptions in the blood supply within the brain. If left untreated, they can lead to permanent damage.
What kind of treatment is available?
The changes in the brain caused by vascular dementia cannot be reversed. Treatments aim to control risk factors such as cholesterol or blood sugar. The person may be prescribed medications to control certain conditions such as blood pressure. Lifestyle changes and rehabilitation to regain strength are also undertaken where appropriate.