Vascular Dementia: What Is It?

Vascular dementia causes irreversible neurological deficits, very similar to Alzheimer’s. Although the origin lies in some alterations in blood flow to the brain, the person experiences the same symptoms: memory problems, speech and movement disorders.
Vascular dementia: what is it?

Vascular dementia is, after Alzheimer’s, the most common neurodegenerative condition from the age of 70. This pathology is the consequence of problems with blood flow, which cannot properly supply the brain. It is a slow and progressive pathology, but which seriously damages the quality of life of the person, compromising their memory, movements and communication.

Nowadays, vascular dementia is an irreversible pathology. Its effects can be slowed down, but there are no treatments to remedy or effectively treat this harsh reality, which so many people and their families have to face every day.

However, it should be noted that unlike Alzheimer’s, vascular dementia has some protective or precipitating factors that can be controlled to some extent . This does not mean that it can be 100% prevented, but it can reduce the chances of suffering from it or delay its onset.

Vascular dementia is related to known underlying factors such as hypertension, high cholesterol and triglycerides, diabetes, overweight, unhealthy lifestyle, etc. Therefore, it is certainly possible to improve one’s vascular health.

So let’s see what characteristics define this disease, which accounts for about 20% of daily dementia diagnoses.

Man with vascular dementia.

What is vascular dementia?

Vascular dementia is a neurodegenerative disease with cognitive decline. It originates from various lesions and vascular alterations, the most common of which are the following:

  • Narrowing of blood vessels in the brain due to arteriosclerosis.
  • Multiple lacunar infarction, usually affecting the gray matter and deep hemispheric white matter.
  • Infarction of the brain and in key areas of the brain, such as the angular gyrus or thalamus.
  • Progressive chronic subcortical encephalitis.
  • Thrombosis and emboli.

On the other hand, a study conducted by Dr. Constantino Ladecola and published in the journal Neuron highlights the following:

  • Vascular dementia is caused by an alteration of the blood vessels. The problem is not just in the poor oxygenation and nutrition of the brain. Changes in neurons and glia cells also occur, so internal homeostasis changes and communication between them is impaired.
Brain tomographies.

Why does this neurodegenerative condition appear?

Vascular dementia is related to some risk factors. Experts explain that on average this disease shows the first signs already around 60 years.

However, symptoms become more noticeable after age 70. Likewise, it should be noted that vascular dementia is more common among men. The main triggers are:

  • Smoke.
  • Hypertension.
  • High cholesterol.
  • Diabetes.
  • Obesity.
  • Sedentary life.
  • Previous heart disease.
  • Previous stroke.
  • Natural brain aging.

Vascular dementia symptoms

Symptoms associated with vascular dementia are slow and progressive. They are often interpreted as a simple distraction or as alterations associated with the mood.

However, there comes a time when cognitive abilities appear clearly impaired, and that’s when medical attention is sought. The main symptoms are:

  • Movement Disorders. The person’s movements appear more rigid, slow and clumsy.
  • Difficulty with thinking. There are memory lapses, deficits in understanding, reflection, participation, planning, and even difficulty maintaining logic in a conversation.
  • Changes in mood.   The person suffers from mood swings, is apathetic, demotivated, angry and can sometimes even show some aggression. All of this can often be mistaken for depression, but in reality the underlying cause is irreversible.
  • Delusions and hallucinations.

Symptoms associated with vascular dementia can vary depending on the brain area affected by stroke or vascular changes. From the beginning, therefore, one might notice a certain motor awkwardness or even an inability to communicate. Sometimes these realities appear suddenly, other times slowly.

What treatments are there for vascular dementia sufferers?

The damage caused by vascular dementia is irreversible, but it is still possible to slow down the course of the disease. It is therefore important to receive an early diagnosis and undergo regular diagnostic tests through imaging tests (CT, MRI …).

Once brain damage is assessed, the factors that triggered the condition, such as heart disease, will be treated. Treatments will be tailored to the patient’s personal reality and the stage of the disease.

In principle, drug therapy is prescribed to treat symptoms and slow the course of the disease. Similarly, it is advisable for the person to follow a neurorehabilitation program, i.e. where he will train memory, understanding, attention, etc.

Multidisciplinary programs are always the most suitable. In this way, the person can count on psychological assistance, physiotherapy, speech therapy and occupational therapy.

The family support is another factor which must be taken into account in all cases. We cannot forget that we are faced with harsh and exhausting realities that require emotions and resources for which we are not always prepared.

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