Dementia defines a group of symptoms that happen when the brain develops damage from certain diseases. An estimated 6.8 million people in the United States have dementia. While it is often thought of as a natural part of aging, dementia actually has specific causes and occurs in less that half of the people over the age of 85.
Vascular dementia is a common form of dementia, second only to Alzheimer's disease. It has several possible causes, including high blood pressure, strokes, heart disease, and diabetes. It occurs when blood flow to the brain is restricted and the cells, which need the blood, die. The symptoms and prognosis of vascular dementia can vary, depending on the other factors involved. For this reason, vascular dementia death statistics may not always be accurate.
Symptoms & Risk Factors
Vascular dementia can include damage to various parts of the brain, causing a wide array of possible symptoms. The symptoms usually show up quickly and coincide with a stroke. Any of the following symptoms could indicate vascular dementia:
- unsteadiness on the feet
- memory loss
- difficulty communicating, planning ahead, and concentrating
- acute confusion
- walking around at random, getting lost, and night wandering
- sudden deterioration
Several risk factors contribute to the development of vascular dementia symptoms, such as smoking and alcohol use, age, genetics, Down syndrome, stroke, atherosclerosis, diabetes, and high cholesterol.
Types & Treatment
Vascular dementia may occur either alone, or with other forms of dementia. Types of vascular dementia include:
- Mild vascular cognitive impairment
- Multi-infarct dementia, caused by numerous small strokes
- Single infarct dementia, caused by an individual stroke
- Vascular dementia caused by lacunar lesions, small lesions within the brain, or hemorrhagic lesions
- Binswanger disease
- Mixed dementia, where Alzheimer's disease and vascular dementia occur together
While vascular dementia may be preventable, in many cases, few treatment options are available. The FDA has not approved any medication for the symptoms. In some cases, Alzheimer's drugs, such as donepezil and memantine, may help.
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, studies show that two drugs, pemtoxifylline and propentofylline, which improve blood flow and help prevent cell death, might be possible treatments for vascular dementia.The underlying cause of vascular dementia, though, can often be treated. For example, treating high blood pressure and gaining control over blood glucose levels can be used as a part of the treatment plan for dementia and as a preventative against further damage.
Prognosis & Statistics
MayoClinic.com. "Vascular Dementia," https://www.mayoclinic.com/health/vascular-dementia/DS00934
Alzheimer's Society. "What is Vascular Dementia," https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/site/scripts/documents_info.php?categoryID=200171&documentID=161&gclid=CLDY55W4waUCFcTb4Aodr0MLXw
NINDS. "Dementia: Hope Through Research," https://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/dementias/detail_dementia.htm
CDC. "Alzheimer's Disease," https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/alzheimr.htm