Vascular dementia is the second most common type of dementia (after Alzheimer’s disease). It affects almost a third of adults older than age 70. Vascular dementia is a decline in memory, thinking skills and behavior due to inadequate blood flow to the brain. While the disease is common, it often goes underdiagnosed. Learn how to recognize the condition and find treatment for you or your loved one.
Causes of Vascular Dementia
When a medical condition damages blood vessels in the brain, vascular dementia can result. Reduced blood flow makes it difficult for the brain to get necessary oxygen and nutrients, leading to the death of healthy cells. Conditions that can limit blood flow to the brain include:
- Atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
Symptoms of Vascular Dementia
Vascular dementia symptoms can vary in severity. Adults in an early stage of the disease may have:
- Declining interest in favorite activities
- Difficulty speaking or understanding others
- Personality changes, including loss of social skills
As the disease progresses, symptoms may worsen. Signs of further mental decline include:
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Delusions or violent behavior
- Difficulty reading or writing
- Inability to carry out daily tasks, such as grooming and cooking
- Poor judgment
Vascular dementia may occur after a stroke. Along with mental and behavioral changes, you may detect stroke symptoms such as sudden headache, difficulty walking, poor balance and numbness or paralysis on one side of the body.
Diagnosing Vascular Dementia
Diagnosing vascular dementia takes time. This is because your physician must rule out other conditions and types of dementia — such as Alzheimer’s disease, which can resemble vascular dementia — before confirming a diagnosis.
To diagnose vascular dementia, your physician will provide a comprehensive medical exam and ask about you or your loved one’s problems carrying out daily activities. The provider will look at the patient’s medical history and lifestyle to narrow down an exact cause of cognitive decline. He or she may also order imaging tests, such as a computed tomography scan of the head or magnetic resonance imaging of the brain to look for evidence of a previous stroke.
Some cognitive changes may improve as you or your loved one recovers from a stroke. Other types of brain damage are irreversible. Either way, there’s hope you or your loved one can have a healthy, fulfilling life despite the condition. Physicians offer support and develop a treatment plan to help manage symptoms and prevent the disease from getting worse. A treatment plan may include:
- Enlisting support from family and caregivers.
- Keeping heart health in check by quitting smoking, following a healthy diet, exercising and staying at a healthy weight.
- Taking medications as prescribed to manage underlying diseases, such as lipids for high cholesterol, beta blockers or ACE inhibitors for high blood pressure, or metformin for diabetes.
Find a Baptist Health primary care provider to help diagnose recent or ongoing mental changes.
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