Vascular dementia is a
dementia. It is caused by disease of the small blood vessels in the brain. Parts of the brain called white matter along with grey matter are injured by multiple small
Healthy and Injured Brain Blood Vessels
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Vascular dementia occurs when cells below the surface of the brain's cortex die because they do not receive enough oxygen and nutrients. This process is due to hardening
of the blood vessels within the white matter of the brain. This affects the blood supply.
Factors that may increase your chance of vascular dementia include: Increased ageHigh blood pressureAlzheimer's dementia—can occur along with vascular dementia
Cardiovascular diseaseHardening of blood vessels—atherosclerosis and lipohyalinosisDiabetesSmokingConditions that cause the blood to clotGenetic disorders
In some people, symptoms appear suddenly with neurological changes like those caused by a stroke. Sometimes, the small strokes that lead to vascular dementia can happen without other symptoms. This makes the condition difficult to detect.
In some cases, symptoms may stabilize or even improve. However in most people, the disease continues to progress.
The main symptoms of vascular dementia include: Progressive loss of
intellectual abilities, processing speed, and cognitive and motor abilitiesProgressive memory lossSlow, unsteady walking
Other symptoms that may be present include: IncontinencePersonality changesLaughing, crying, or smiling during inappropriate timesDifficulty speakingSwallowing difficulties
or weakness of one or both sides of the body
InactivityDepression, which may cause a loss of interest in activities
Tremors, loss of coordination, loss of trunk mobilitySeizuresNighttime confusionParanoiaDisorientation
The symptoms of vascular dementia can resemble other causes of dementia, such as
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
Pictures may be taken of your brain and bodily structures. This can be done with: MRI scanCT scanMR angiographyCT angiographyUltrasound of the carotid artery in the neck
Your heart and brain activity may be evaluated. This can be done with: EchocardiogramElectrocardiogram
(EKG)—to measure electrical activity of the heart
(EEG)—to measure electrical activity of the brain
Your bodily fluids may be tested. This can be done with blood tests.
There is no known cure for vascular dementia. Reducing risk factors and symptoms are important in trying to slow disease progression and improve quality of life.
Medications can be given to help limit or control symptoms and possibly slow progression of the disease. These include:
Medications to control:
High blood pressureHeart arrhythmiasStroke risk, such as by using aspirinHigh cholesterolConditions that cause the blood to clot
DiabetesAntidepressantsNimodipine—may help improve cognitive function in the short term, but lacks evidence to support its long-term useMedications used to treat Alzheimer's
There are no definitive guidelines to prevent vascular dementia. However, the following may help reduce your risk: If you smoke, talk to your doctor about how you can successfully
Eat a diet that is
low in fat
low in salt.
If you drink alcohol, do so only in moderation. Moderate alcohol intake is two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women.Have your blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels checked at least once a year.If you have diabetes, maintain your blood glucose in your target range.
Avoid low blood pressure. If you get lightheaded when you stand up, or have a history of
fainting, talk to your doctor.
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Vascular dementia. Alzheimer's Association website. Available at:
http://www.alz.org/dementia/vascular-dementia-symptoms.asp. Accessed July 29, 2013.
Vascular dementia: A resource list. National Institute on Aging website. Available at:
https://www.nia.nih.gov/alzheimers/vascular-dementia-resource-list. Accessed July 29, 2013.
9/3/2014 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance. Available at:
http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115874/Vascular-cognitive-impairment: Wippold FJ, Brown DC, Broderick DF, et al. American College of Radiology (ACR) Appropriateness Criteria for dementia and movement disorders. Available at: http://www.acr.org/~/media/ACR/Documents/AppCriteria/Diagnostic/DementiaAndMovementDisorders.pdf. Updated 2014. Accessed September 3, 2014.
Last reviewed May 2016 by Rimas Lukas, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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