Vascular Dementia can occur as a result of age-related dementia. It includes profound memory loss, including short-term and even some long-term memory, along with impaired thought processes. Fortunately, research has shown that dementia is not an inevitable part of aging but is actually the result of Alzheimer’s disease.
Alzheimer’s and Vascular Dementia
Vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s are very similar. However, where Alzheimer’s has no definable cause and no cure, vascular dementia is caused by problems with the blood supply to the brain and can be prevented and possibly even reversed.
The symptoms for both conditions are similar. They both involve a marked decline in memory recall, including a particularly severe problem with short-term memory. It may start as forgetfulness, or a new habit of misplacing items; but the memory problems will steadily grow worse.
As time wears on, the problems extend to the ability to think clearly, clouds judgment, impairs communication and impacts the emotional stability of the person.
Common symptoms to watch for include:
- Weakness in the legs or arms
- Slurred speech
- Challenges balancing
- Bladder and/ or bowel control problems
- Trouble planning steps or following instructions
- Trouble performing tasks that should come easily
- Laughing or crying at inappropriate times
- Unusual mood changes such as depression and irritability
- Difficulty speaking and recalling words
- Delusions, hallucinations
- Confusion that may get worse at night or when tired
- Changes in personality
While memory may be a clear warning sign of Alzheimer’s, there are also many other illnesses that could be causing the dementia. There are dozens of diseases and disorders that impair thinking and memory recall skills. These include:
- Viral infections
- Malfunctioning glands
- Benign brain tumors
- Nutritional deficiencies
When the memory lapses are caused by something other than Alzheimer’s, it is possible to treat the memory lapses by treating the underlying problem. In roughly ten percent of cases, the cause can be found and successfully treated.
Alzheimer’s has no known treatment or cure at this time. There are medications that can help alleviate the symptoms, but they are not a cure and are not able to reverse the condition. It is estimated that up to four million people in the country have Alzheimer’s. This accounts for roughly ten percent of the over-65 population.
The number of people with vascular dementia is currently unknown. It is believed that vascular causes may account for up to one third of all reported dementia cases. It is also possible for people to have a condition called mixed dementia where Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia are both present.
There are some ways to tell the difference between vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s. The primary difference lies in how quickly the symptoms appear. Alzheimer’s symptoms appear gradually. The shift is slow and difficult to notice at first. It is typically only where the confusion and inability to manage simple tasks begins to appear that people start to suspect dementia.
Vascular dementia, on the other hand, tends to set in quickly with the symptoms suddenly becoming worse from one day to the next. While Alzheimer’s progresses as a slow walk downhill, vascular dementia progresses as if the patient is falling from one step to the next.
Vascular Dementia Causes
This disease is the result of reduced blood flow to the brain. As the brain cells are starved of the oxygen-carrying blood, they will start to die. Just as flowers that are never watered will wither and fade, so will the brain cells of someone with vascular dementia.
As the blood flow to some areas of the brain is decreased, the blood will begin to build up in another area. Like water can build up and break a hose that is pinched off, the blood can cause the artery to swell. An aneurysm occurs when the artery wall breaks under the pressure and all the remaining brain cells normally fed by that artery will perish. Blockages can cause a stroke, resulting in loss of speech, paralysis and even death.
Stroke is actually a general term referring to any blockage, regardless off size or duration. Experts believe that most vascular dementia cases begin with a series of brief, small blockages that each impact a small area. Over time, the areas that are affected begin to expand and the result is multi-infarct dementia. How severe the multi-infarct dementia is depends largely on where the blockages are located and how many times they have occurred.
It is important to note the strokes can occur without the patient’s knowledge. Small strokes that can cause damage may occur without showing any symptoms. Other times the symptoms will include only a brief impairment in consciousness or vision.
Treatment for a stroke of any size is vital. Call for immediate treatment if you notice any of these symptoms:
- Numbness, weakness or paralysis on one side of the face or body
- Difficulty speaking due to slurring, especially if it occurs even when concentrating on the task
- Seeing double or loss of vision completely
- Dizziness, walking
- Sudden headache
- Stiff neck, vomiting or pain between the eyes that accompanies the headache
Prevention and Treatment
Because the cause of dementia is stroke, the best treatment is to restore free and steady blood flow into and out of the brain. By lowering the risk of stroke, the risk of vascular dementia will also be reduced. Risk factors for stroke are as follows:
- High blood pressure, or hypertension is a cause for as much as 50% of all cases
- Smoking cigarettes
- Consuming excessive levels of alcohol
- Diabetes that is left untreated
- Artery hardening, or atherosclerosis
- Heart disease, including abnormal heart rhythms
Treatment is also possible by taking steps to prevent further strokes from occurring. Medication is often used to help reverse the condition and it is necessary to address the factors that led to the original blockage and the cardiovascular disease. In addition to treating any of the above conditions, it is also advisable to start exercising regularly and lower sodium levels in your diet.
In addition to stopping the progress of vascular dementia, taking these steps can also help to actually ease the symptoms of the disease. While not all people will be able to recover from the damage that has already occurred, there is hope for most patients. Unlike Alzheimer’s that promises a slow and steady decline, there is hope for remedying vascular dementia.