Vascular dementia is the second most common type of dementia, accounting for roughly 15-20% of dementia cases in Europe. Vascular dementia is caused by impaired blood flow to the brain, which results in damage to the brain cells and leads to problems with memory, reasoning, planning and other thought processes.
Diseases that damage blood vessels and reduce circulation can cause vascular dementia. Stroke, which occurs when blood flow to the brain is interrupted by a blood clot or bleeding, is one of the most common causes of vascular dementia. Vascular dementia can also arise when our blood vessels are badly damaged or narrowed by cardiovascular disease, hypertension or type 2 diabetes.
Symptoms of vascular dementia
The symptoms of vascular dementia vary depending on the area of the brain affected by reduced blood flow, and the extent of damage that is caused. Symptoms can start suddenly, for example after a major stroke, or develop gradually over time. Similar to Alzheimer’s dementia, vascular dementia generally gets worse over time, although the rate of progression can vary from person to person.
Unlike Alzheimer’s dementia, however, memory loss isn’t the typical first sign of vascular dementia. Instead, people with vascular dementia might have mild problems with reasoning, concentration and speed of thinking. Later on, people with vascular dementia can become more confused and disoriented, finding it hard to walk and keep balance. Memory problems may also develop, alongside changes in mood, personality and increasing slowness of thought. As vascular dementia becomes advanced, people have much less awareness of what is happening around them, with increasing frailty and difficulties eating and walking without help.