- Vascular dementia is a subtly progressive worsening of memory and other cognitive functions due to chronic, reduced blood flow in the brain, eventually resulting in dementia. Clinically, patients with vascular dementia may look very similar to patients with Alzheimer’s, and the two diseases are very difficult to distinguish from each other. Vascular dementia may occur in with Alzheimer’s disease.
- Vascular dementia results from conditions that damage your brain’s blood vessels, reducing their ability to supply your brain with the large amounts of nutrition and oxygen it needs to perform thought processes effectively. Vascular dementia is a general term describing problems with reasoning, planning, judgment, memory and other thought processes caused by brain damage from impaired blood flow to your brain.
- You can develop vascular dementia after a stroke blocks an artery in your brain, but strokes don’t always cause vascular dementia. Whether a stroke affects your thinking and reasoning depends on your stroke’s severity and location. Vascular dementia also can result from other conditions that damage blood vessels and reduce circulation, depriving your brain of vital oxygen and nutrients.
Common conditions include:
- stroke (infarction) blocking a brain artery, narrowed or chronically blocking damaged brain blood vessels, increasing age, history of heart attack, strokes or mini strokes, atherosclerosis, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking, atrial fibrillation.
- Vascular dementia varies depending on the part of your brain where blood flow is impaired. Symptoms often overlap with those of other types of dementia, especially Alzheimer’s disease. Vascular dementia symptoms may be most clear-cut when they occur suddenly following a stroke. When changes in your thinking and reasoning seem clearly linked to a stroke, this condition is sometimes called “post-stroke dementia.”
- Another characteristic pattern of vascular dementia symptoms sometimes follows a series of strokes or mini strokes. In this pattern, changes in your thought processes occur in noticeable “steps” downward from your previous level of function, unlike the gradual, steady decline that typically occurs in Alzheimer’s disease.
- Vascular dementia can also develop very gradually, just like Alzheimer’s disease. What’s more, vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s often occur together. Studies show that people with dementia symptoms usually have brain changes typical of more than one type. Some doctors call this condition “mixed dementia.”
Vascular dementia symptoms may include:
- confusion, trouble paying attention and concentrating, reduced ability to organize thoughts or actions, decline in ability to analyze a situation, develop an effective plan and communicate plan to others, difficulty deciding what to do next, problems with memory, restlessness and agitation, unsteady gait, depression.