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 strokes.
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 chances of developing vascular dementia include:
- Increased age
- High blood pressure—the most closely associated risk factor
- Alzheimer’s dementia
—can occur along with vascular dementia
- Cardiovascular disease
- Hardening of blood vessels—atherosclerosis and lipohyalinosis
- Conditions that cause the blood to clot
- Genetic disorders
In some patients, symptoms appear suddenly with neurologic 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 patients, the disease continues to progress.
The main symptoms of vascular dementia include:
- Progressive loss of
intellectual abilities, processing speed, and cognitive and motor abilities
- Progressive memory loss
- Slow, unsteady walking
Other symptoms that may be present include:
- Personality changes
- Laughing, crying, or smiling during inappropriate times
- Difficulty speaking
- Swallowing difficulties
or weakness of one or both sides of the body
- Loss of interest in activities
- Tremors, loss of coordination, loss of trunk mobility
- Nighttime confusion
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 scan
- CT scan
- Single photon-emission computed tomography (SPECT)
Your heart and brain activity may be evaluated. This can be done with:
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:
- Antidepressant medications
- Nimodipine—may help improve cognitive function in the short-term, but lacks evidence to support its long term use
- Medicines used to treat Alzheimer's disease, such as
There are no definitive guidelines to prevent vascular dementia. However, the following may help reduce your risk:
If you smoke,
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; one drink per day for women.
- Have your blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels checked at least once a year.
- Control diabetes.
Avoid low blood pressure. If you get dizzy when you stand up or have a history of
fainting, talk to your doctor.
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Smith EE. Leukoariosis and stroke.
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Last reviewed July 2013 by Rimas Lukas, MD; Michael Woods, 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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