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Vascular Dementia

Vascular dementia, often referred to as multi-infarct dementia, is the second most common form of dementia. Vascular dementia produces a decline in thinking skills caused by a blockage or reduction of blood flow to the brain, depriving the brain cells of oxygen and nutrients. Vascular dementia is often the result of a transient ischemic attack (TIA), also known as a “mini-stroke.”

Symptoms of Vascular Dementia

The symptoms of vascular dementia can begin suddenly, following a stroke, or may progressively worsen over time as the result of multiple mini-strokes or other conditions that affect smaller blood vessels in the brain. Symptoms can range from mild to severe depending on the severity of damage to the brain and the part of the brain affected. Memory may or may not be affected depending on the area of the brain impacted.

When symptoms occur suddenly following a major stroke, they often exhibit as changes in thinking and perception including:

  • Confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Problems with articulation or comprehension of speech
  • Vision loss

Symptoms caused by mini-strokes or other conditions affecting the smaller blood vessels in the brain cause more gradual thinking changes which include:

  • Impaired judgment and planning
  • Diminishing ability to pay attention
  • Episodes of uncontrolled crying and laughing
  • Problems finding the right word or words
  • Problems functioning in social situations

Brain or Physical Changes Associated with Vascular Dementia

Vascular dementia occurs when brain cells are damaged and die due to a stroke or some other condition affecting blood flow to the brain. This is frequently the result of a TIA, often referred to as a silent stroke because they generally go unnoticed until enough of them occur to cause significant disability.

Causes/Risk Factors for Vascular Dementia

Advancing age is generally the number one risk factor in the development of most dementias, including vascular dementia. Other risk factors are also associated with vascular dementia because it’s closely tied to heart and vascular health. The following specific risk factors should be kept within healthy and accepted limits:

  • Blood pressure
  • Cholesterol levels
  • Blood sugar

The following strategies and healthy habits will also reduce your risk:

  • Don’t smoke
  • Limit alcohol consumption
  • Consume a healthy diet
  • Develop regular exercise habits
  • Maintain a healthy weight

Diagnosis, Treatment and Care of Vascular Dementia

Unlike Alzheimer’s, the cause of vascular dementia is generally known; therefore, medical professionals may be able to take steps to prevent further damage to the brain. This means it’s critical to seek treatment early to stop the progression of the disease and to do all that is possible to prevent further damage. Controlling the risk factors is an important treatment strategy to improve outcomes and to delay or prevent further decline.

Core elements of vascular screening include:

  • A thorough medical history
  • Independent function and daily activity evaluation
  • Documentation of observations from family members and friends
  • Laboratory tests including brain imaging and blood tests
  • Functional assessment of nerves and reflexes, balance, coordination, movement and other senses

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