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  • MindMate Team

What is Vascular Dementia?

by Oliver Wolf

Vascular dementia (also known as “vascular cognitive impairment”) is one of the most common causes of dementia in older people. When an individual begins suffering from forgetfulness, vascular dementia is often overlooked because it is not as obvious as Alzheimer’s and much more difficult to diagnose. Because vascular dementia is so difficult to diagnose, there are only estimates about how many people are actually affected. It is believed that approximately 15% to 20% of dementia cases in elderly are caused by vascular dementia. It is recommended that a professional screening should be performed on anyone deemed high risk (especially those who have already had a stroke or a transient ischemic attack or those with high cholesterol or a heart or blood vessel disease.)  Unlike Alzheimer’s, when the brain’s nerve cells deteriorate, vascular dementia is when part of the brain is depleted of blood and consequently of the nutrients and oxygen that it needs. This happens when the blood vessels that transport blood to the brain are clotted or stenotic. Strokes are also caused when blood going to the brain is cut off, however, not every individual who has suffered a stroke will develop vascular dementia as a consequence. Considering this, it is crucial to avoid and carefully manage risk factors such as diabetes, high blood-pressure, high cholesterol, and smoking in order to reduce the likelihood of vascular dementia. Similarly to Lewy body dementia, vascular dementia is most effectively treated when an early diagnosis is made. 

Another perplexing component of vascular dementia is that symptoms vary completely depending on which part of the brain is being affected. Meaning, two individuals with the same disease may react totally differently. Additionally, the symptoms of vascular dementia are regularly mild for a good amount time. Some of the symptoms include issues with short term memory, wandering / getting lost in familiar places, impaired coordination / balance, laughing or crying at inappropriate times, trouble concentrating / planning, vision loss, difficulty speaking or understanding speech, inability to follow instructions, urinary / bowel incontinence, and hallucinations / delusions. Rapidly worsening symptoms are often indicative of a stroke.  

There has yet to be a drug approved specifically to treat symptoms of vascular dementia, but there has been some evidence gathered from clinical trials that point to some drugs approved to treat Alzheimer’s as possible methods of somewhat helping patients manage vascular dementia. However, until a vascular-dementia-specific drug is backed by the FDA, the best way to deal with the disease is to control the risk factors. There is significant proof that treatment of risk factors can improve results and limit further degeneration. It is vital to work with your physician to formulate the best possible treatment plan for your specific symptoms. Just as with other kinds of dementia, depression often appears in tandem. Depression can make it much more difficult to combat the effects of vascular dementia, so it is important to mention any signs of dementia to your doctor so it can be promptly dealt with. 


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