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Vascular Dementia: Introduction

Did you know?

Although there are no medications currently approved for the treatment of vascular dementia specifically, cholinergic medications used in the treatment of Alzheimer's disease appear to work well for persons with vascular dementia.

Vascular dementia is a brain disorder that is characterized by memory loss and difficulty thinking, such as solving problems and making decisions. It is caused by problems with the blood vessels that feed the brain. Sometimes a stroke or multiple small strokes can cause vascular dementia. Sometimes it is caused by a narrowing of the blood vessels called atherosclerosis, which is the same build up of fatty material in blood vessels that can lead to heart attacks. High blood pressure may also be a cause.

How Common is Vascular Dementia?

Vascular dementia is the second most common type of dementia after Alzheimer’s disease (Merck, 2007). About 20% of all people with dementia have some vascular dementia. It has been estimated that 1.5% of the population in Western countries like the United States have vascular dementia. Vascular dementia is most common in people over age 60, and the risk of developing vascular dementia increases with age (Alagiakrishnan and Masaki, 2007). Additionally, individuals are much more likely to develop vascular dementia following a stroke than at other times.

Subtypes of Vascular Dementia

Subtypes of vascular dementia are multi-infarct dementia and subcortical vascular dementia. Multi-infarct dementia is the subtype caused by a stroke or multiple small strokes. Not all strokes result in vascular dementia. The other subtype, subcortical vascular dementia, has also been called Binswanger’s Disease. This is the type that is caused by narrowing of the blood vessels by by buildup of fatty material, or atherosclerosis. The symptoms and progression of vascular dementia are slightly different depending on which subtype a person has, but individuals often have both subtypes.

Relationship Between Vascular Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease

Many people have a combination of vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. In fact, having a combination of strokes and Alzheimer’s disease is more common than having either Alzheimer’s alone or having vascular dementia alone.

More About Causes and Symptoms

Causes, risk factors, and symptoms of vascular dementia are somewhat different than other forms of dementia. Follow the links below to learn more.

More About Diagnosis and Treatment

Approaches to diagnosis and treatment of vascular dementia are similar to those for other forms of dementia. Follow the links below to learn more.

Suggestions for Caregivers

Caring for someone with vascular dementia is challenging. Because so many cases of vascular dementia result from stroke, caregivers may also have to assist their loved ones with physical tasks if they are impaired following the stroke.

Also, the so-called stepwise progression that occurs in many people with vascular dementia is a challenge for caregivers. Caregivers may find that their loved ones are doing "fine" for a period of time, or that they may even seem to be getting somewhat better, then their symptoms may suddenly worsen overnight. Usually this happens when the person suffers from another stroke, sometimes one so small that it is physically undetectable. Understanding the disease and knowing what to expect is the best thing that caregivers can do to be prepared.

View References

Merck and Company. Dementia. August 2007. Available at http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/sec16/ch213/ch213c.html. Retrieved March 31, 2009.

Alagiakrishnan K, Masaki K. eMedicine. Vascular Dementia: Introduction. Available at http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/292105-overview. Retrieved March 31, 2009.

Resources

Multi-Infarct Dementia Information Page

Source: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
Description: This web page discusses multi-infarct dementia (dementia caused by multiple strokes) and its treatment and prognosis. It also provides links to current research and supporting organizations.

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What is Vascular Dementia?

Source: Alzheimer's Society (United Kingdom)
Description: This website provides an easy-to-read discussion of vascular dementia including its cause, symptoms, risk factors, treatment, and the different types of vascular dementia.

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Vascular Dementia (VAD)

Source: UCSF Memory & Aging Center
Description: This web page provides a thorough discussion of vascular dementia including symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment. Vascular dementia is compared to other forms of dementia.

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Introduction to Vascular Dementia

Source: Alzheimer's Association
Description: This web page provides a brief description of vascular dementia including symptoms and treatment. It describes the type of vascular dementia that occurs after a single major stroke, and the type that becomes evident over time as a result of very small strokes, called “multi-infarct dementia.”

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Detailed Medical Information on Vascular Dementia

Source: eMedicine by WebMD
Description: This article, written from a medical perspective, provides an in-depth discussion of vascular dementia, including pathophysiology, causes, and all aspects of diagnosis, treatment, and follow-up.

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NINDS Multi-Infarct Dementia Information Page

Source: National Institute of Health
Description: This fact sheet provides an introduction to the most common form of vascular dementia, and briefly discusses symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, prognosis, and research.

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