What is Vascular Dementia?
Vascular dementia is fairly common, ranking number two after dementia caused by Alzheimer’s Disease. Vascular dementia occurs when the brain is deprived of enough blood carrying the oxygen and nutrients it needs. The lack of blood causes brain damage which affects memory, reasoning, planning, judgment and other thought processes. According to Avi Almozlino, chief of neurology at Newton-Wellesley Hospital, Alzheimer’s disease largely affects the gray matter (the main bodies of nerve cells), while vascular dementia affects the white matter (the connecting fibers in the brain). Both types of dementias involve memory loss and confusion, however, vascular dementia may include issues with walking and other movements.
Causes and Risk Factors
- Multi-infarct dementia or single stroke. Not all strokes result in vascular dementia, however, the more strokes you have the more your brain is at risk. Vascular dementia can develop through a single large stroke or series of “silent” strokes. Dementia caused by multiple silent strokes is called Multi-infarct dementia which is thought to be the most common form of vascular dementia. Because these strokes do not provide outward evidence that they have occurred, the patient is usually unaware of the stroke(s) until the damage eventually shows itself through dementia symptoms.
- Narrowed or chronically damaged blood vessels. Vascular dementia can also develop through conditions such as diabetes, lupus erythematosus, brain hemorrhage, high blood pressure, temporal arteritis, hardening of the arteries and wear and tear associated with aging.
-Problems with memory
-Confusion which may worsen at night
-Leg or arm weakness
-Laughing or crying at inappropriate times
-Loss of bladder or bowel control
-Difficulty doing things that used to come easily
-Inability to follow instructions
-Unusual mood changes
-Difficulty planning, making decisions and analyzing
-Hallucinations and delusions
Vascular dementia symptoms vary depending on which part of the brain is restricted from blood flow. In some cases a person can be suffering from two types of dementia such as vascular and that caused by Alzheimer’s Disease. When different types of dementia’s combine, various parts of the brain are affected in different ways causing the patient to show symptoms and progression differently than another patient with dementia. This is why even though there are many commonalities dementia patients share, each case is unique due to the countless possible combinations and various parts of the brain affected.
Generally, dementia caused by Alzheimer’s alone tends to progress gradually while vascular dementias caused by strokes or conditions causing damage to blood vessels have a more noticeable drops in decline. For a visual, picture Alzheimer’s as walking down a slope and vascular dementia as walking down a staircase. All dementias behave differently in each individuals brain and there is no real way to know how a patient will be affected or how quickly they will decline. All we have are studies to go by that show similarities among patients. If you or a loved one suspect you have had a stroke or have any of the conditions mentioned above that can cause damage to blood vessels in the brain, there are steps you can take to help reduce your risks.
Risk Reduction Tips
-If you smoke, stop.
-Know and manage blood pressure.
-Carefully control diabetes keeping glucose levels low per doctors instructions.
-Decrease stressors in your life.
-Check cholesterol frequently.
-Check for abnormal heart rhythm.
-Keep alcohol to a minimum, if you drink do so in moderation.
-Incorporate exercise in your daily routine.
-Eat consciously enjoying healthy options with less fat and salt.
-Make it a point to have more fun, laughing and feeling joy reduces your chances of strokes brought on by stress.