What is “vascular dementia”?

What is "vascular dementia"?

About 10% to 20% of cognitive impairments are a result of vascular dementia, also called “stroke dementia.”

Vascular dementia arises when the blood supply to the brain is interrupted by a blood clot or from bleeding in the brain (for instance, after hitting one’s head during a fall). Vascular dementia can come on suddenly, from a stroke. Or gradually over time (from “TIAs” or “ministrokes”).

A stroke doesn’t always result in dementia. Think of it like a power outage in different neighborhoods of the brain. A stroke can affect movement, speech, vision, thought, and/or language, depending on where the “outage” occurred and how long it lasted.

Vascular dementia may include changes to memory, logical thinking, emotional stability (depression or sudden bouts of crying), and/or unusual behaviors. Because repeated strokes and ministrokes can happen any time, the decline of vascular dementia is less predictable than that of Alzheimer’s, and can be more unsettling.

Risks and prevention. People at high risk for vascular dementia are those with conditions that affect the cardiovascular system: High blood pressure, atrial fibrillation, high cholesterol, obesity, diabetes, smoking, and a sedentary lifestyle. Addressing these factors helps reduce the likelihood of vascular dementia starting or worsening.

A full medical evaluation will identify which parts of the brain are struggling. This may reveal steps to stop or slow further progression.

Catch a stroke early. If a stroke is caught within the first three hours, the chances of recovery are much improved. Think “F-A-S-T”: Face: Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop? Arms: Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward? Speech: Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence. Is their speech slurred or difficult to understand? Time: Call 911 for an ambulance if you see any of these signs.