Vascular dementia is a type of 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

Blood Flow and Lack of Blood Flow to the Brain

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Causes

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 and narrowing of the blood vessels within the white matter of the brain. This affects the blood supply.

Risk Factors

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
  • Diabetes
  • Smoking
  • Conditions that cause the blood to clot
  • Genetic disorders
Symptoms

In some people, 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 people, 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:

  • Incontinence
  • Personality changes
  • Laughing, crying, or smiling during inappropriate times
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Swallowing difficulties
  • Paralysis or weakness of one or both sides of the body
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Inactivity
  • Depression
  • Tremors, loss of coordination, loss of trunk mobility
  • Seizures
  • Nighttime confusion
  • Paranoia
  • Disorientation
Diagnosis

The symptoms of vascular dementia can resemble other causes of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease.

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:

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.

Treatment

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
  • Medications used to treat Alzheimer's disease, such as donepezil and memantine
Prevention

There are no definitive guidelines to prevent vascular dementia. However, the following may help reduce your risk:

  • Don’t smoke. If you smoke, talk to your doctor about how you can successfully quit.
  • Eat a diet that is low in fat and 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.
  • 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.