Vascular dementia, after Alzheimer's disease, is the most common cause of dementia.
Although it cannot be cured, an early diagnosis is essential as treatment can be effective and can potentially slow the degeneration.
What are the causes of vascular dementia?
The body’s blood vessels are collectively called the vascular system. If the brain’s vascular system is damaged and blood cannot reach individual brain cells, these will eventually die, resulting in what we call vascular dementia.
Risk factors that may cause or accelerate damage to the brain’s vascular system include:
- Vascular-related problems including strokes, high blood pressure, heart problems, high cholesterol, diabetes (especially type II) and sleep apnoea (where your breathing stops during sleep).
- Lifestyle factors such as low exercise levels, heavy drinking, smoking, a fatty diet or neglect of medical conditions.
- Hereditary factors – a family history of strokes or vascular dementia.
- Ethnic background – Indian, Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Sri Lankan and African-Caribbean people may be more susceptible.
Strokes and vascular dementia
Single major strokes are a leading cause of vascular dementia – in this case known as ‘single-infarct’ dementia.
A series of minor strokes can have the same result – and can be so tiny that the sufferer may not even be aware of them happening. This can lead to ‘multi-infarct’ dementia.
Small vessel disease-related dementia
This is caused by damage to the tiny bloody vessels that lie deep in the brain. Symptoms appear gradually and may be accompanied by problems with walking.
The importance of getting a professional diagnosis
Diagnosis is essential to discovering whether the cause of the symptoms is curable or not. Also, the sooner the cause is identified – whether vascular dementia or something else – the more effective treatment could be and the slower the subsequent degeneration.
A positive diagnosis will also open the door to support services geared to dementia sufferers and their carers and allow the individual and their family to plan for the future.
Once referred to a qualified specialist, testing will include cognitive tests, an investigation of lifestyle factors, medical history and family history and, if necessary, brain scans. It’s also very helpful for a family member to attend to provide verification or additional information about particular symptoms.
What kind of treatments are there for vascular dementia?
While vascular dementia cannot be reversed, there are ways to slow down its advance:
- Strokes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and heart problems can all be treated with medication.
- Lifestyle improvements include stopping smoking, decreasing alcohol intake, improving one’s diet and taking regular exercise.
- Physiotherapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy can help a sufferer live a more normal, active life.
How Clinical Partners can help
Simply call our clinical team in confidence on 0203 326 9160 and we will recommend the most suitable clinician for your individual situation.