Vascular dementia

Around 17% of people diagnosed with dementia will have vascular dementia. It is the second most common form of dementia in the over 65 age group. Although you can have vascular dementia under the age of 65, it is comparatively rare.

What causes vascular dementia?

Vascular dementia is an umbrella term for a group of conditions caused by problems with blood circulation to the brain. It is caused by small blood clots preventing oxygen reaching the brain tissue. The small clots are sometimes known as Transient Ischaemic Attacks or TIAs. Damage to the blood supply can also be caused by blocked arteries (atherosclerosis) or bursting of blood vessels in the brain (haemorrhage).

How does vascular dementia develop?

Changes in a person’s condition as a result of TIAs or a larger stroke are often sudden, before their condition plateaus. But the damage caused often means the person does not function quite the same way as they did before.

The signs and symptoms of vascular dementia depend on which area of the brain has been affected. Language, reading, writing and communication can be affected in vascular dementia. Memory problems may not be an issue initially, if this area of the brain has not been damaged, although they may occur later on.

Managing the effects of vascular dementia

The drugs that are routinely prescribed for Alzheimer’s disease do not have benefits for vascular dementia and are not recommended for it. If vascular dementia is caused by or related to heart disease, diabetes, or strokes, changing lifestyle and taking medication to control these conditions may prevent dementia from getting worse. Regular health checks are advisable so physical health can be monitored and appropriate interventions given which may include medication for an underlying condition e.g. diabetes, high cholesterol level, heart disease and vascular problems. Advice should also be given on diet, activity, smoking cessation and alcohol consumption.

If someone is depressed, anxious, or finding it difficult to come to terms with the diagnosis, counselling, cognitive behavioural therapy or medication may also be recommended.

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