Vascular dementia is a general term describing problems with reasoning, planning, judgment, memory and other thought processes caused by brain damage from impaired blood flow to your brain.
You can develop vascular dementia after a stroke blocks an artery in your brain, but strokes don’t always cause vascular dementia. Whether a stroke affects your thinking and reasoning depends on your stroke’s severity and location. Vascular dementia also can result from other conditions that damage blood vessels and reduce circulation, depriving your brain of vital oxygen and nutrients.
Factors that increase your risk of heart disease and stroke — including high blood pressure, high cholesterol and smoking — also raise your vascular dementia risk. Controlling these factors can help lower your chances of developing vascular dementia.
Vascular dementia results from conditions that damage your brain’s blood vessels, reducing their ability to supply your brain with the amounts of nutrition and oxygen it needs to perform thought processes effectively.
Common conditions that may lead to vascular dementia include:
- Stroke (infarction) blocking a brain artery. Strokes that block a brain artery usually cause a range of symptoms that may include vascular dementia. But some strokes don’t cause any noticeable symptoms. These “silent brain infarctions” still increase dementia risk.
With both silent and apparent strokes, the risk of vascular dementia increases with the number of infarctions that occur over time. One type of vascular dementia involving many strokes is called multi-infarct dementia.
- Narrowed or chronically damaged brain blood vessels.Conditions that narrow or inflict long-term damage on your brain blood vessels also can lead to vascular dementia. These conditions include the wear and tear associated with aging; high blood pressure; hardening of the arteries; diabetes; lupus erythematosus; brain hemorrhage; and temporal arteritis.
Vascular dementia symptoms vary, depending on the part of your brain where blood flow is impaired. Symptoms often overlap with those of other types of dementia, especially Alzheimer’s disease.
Vascular dementia symptoms may be most clear-cut when they occur suddenly following a stroke. When changes in your thinking and reasoning seem clearly linked to a stroke, this condition is sometimes called post-stroke dementia.
Another characteristic pattern of vascular dementia symptoms sometimes follows a series of strokes or mini strokes. In this pattern, changes in your thought processes occur in noticeable steps downward from your previous level of function, unlike the gradual, steady decline that typically occurs in Alzheimer’s disease.
But vascular dementia can also develop very gradually, just like Alzheimer’s disease. What’s more, vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s often occur together.
Studies show that people with dementia symptoms usually have brain changes typical of more than one type. Some doctors call this condition mixed dementia.
Vascular dementia symptoms include:
- Trouble paying attention and concentrating
- Decline in ability to analyze a situation, develop an effective plan and communicate that plan to others
- Difficulty deciding what to do next
- Problems with memory
- Restlessness and agitation
- Unsteady gait
- Sudden or frequent urge to urinate or inability to control passing urine