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Vascular Dementia

Vascular dementia is the second most common cause of dementia in older people. Because it has a lower profile than Alzheimer's, many people don't suspect vascular dementia when forgetfulness becomes problematic. It's also difficult to diagnose so it's difficult to know exactly how many people suffer from vascular dementia. Current estimates attribute 15% to 20% of dementia cases in older adults to vascular dementia. 

Determining the root cause can help determine the best action plan. If it's vascular dementia, certain lifestyle changes can help prevent further damage. WebMD takes a look at vascular dementia, its causes, symptoms, and prognosis.

What Is Vascular Dementia?

Compared to Alzheimer's disease, which happens when the brain's nerve cells break down, vascular dementia happens when part of the brain doesn't get enough blood carrying the oxygen and nutrients it needs.

Though they happen in different ways, it is possible to have both vascular dementia and Alzheimer's disease. Discouraging as this sounds, there is ample reason to control the risk factors that contribute to vascular dementia. Allowing the condition to run its course without intervention can make Alzheimer's disease worse.

What Causes Vascular Dementia?

Vascular dementia occurs when vessels that supply blood to the brain become blocked or narrowed. Strokes take place when the supply of blood carrying oxygen to the brain is suddenly cut off. However, not all people with stroke will develop vascular dementia.

Vascular dementia can occur over time as "silent" strokes pile up. Quite often, vascular dementia draws attention to itself only when the impact of so many strokes adds up to significant disability. Avoiding and controlling risk factors such as diabetes, high blood pressure, smoking, and high cholesterol can help curb the risk of vascular dementia.

Catching the condition early also helps limit the impact and severity of vascular dementia. Early detection requires an awareness of risk factors and, more importantly, efforts to keep them under control. Anyone who suspects vascular dementia should talk with his or her doctor.

Symptoms of Vascular Dementia

Symptoms of vascular dementia depend on what part of the brain is affected and to what extent. Like Alzheimer's disease, the symptoms of vascular dementia are often mild for a long time. They may include:

  • Problems with short-term memory
  • Wandering or getting lost in familiar surroundings
  • Laughing or crying at inappropriate times
  • Trouble concentrating, planning, or following through on activities
  • Trouble managing money
  • Inability to follow instructions
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control
  • Hallucinations or delusions

Symptoms that suddenly get worse often signal a stroke. Doctors look for symptoms that progress in noticeable stages to diagnose vascular dementia. Alzheimer's, by comparison, progresses at a slow, steady pace. Another clue is impaired coordination or balance. In vascular dementia, problems walking or balancing can happen early. With Alzheimer's, these symptoms usually occur late in the disease.

WebMD Medical Reference

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