Vascular Dementia – Helpful questions and answers

What is Vascular Dementia?

Vascular Dementia (VD) is a condition caused by a lack of sufficient oxygen and nutrients to the brain, causing the cells within the brain to eventually die. The blood vessels that carry blood to the brain become diseased – they are often weakened and leak, or can become blocked, decreasing their effectiveness in delivering vital oxygen and nutrients to the brain. Of the various identifiable types of dementia, VD is the second most-common form, with approximately 150,000 sufferers in the UK.

Here is a useful video that providers a brief outline of what Vascular Dementia is.

How is it caused?

There are two primary reasons why the condition may develop.

Cause 1 – The most common cause is the degeneration of tiny blood vessels deep within the brain, this is called Subcortical Dementia.  The tiny bloody vessels can thicken, which in turn reduces the blood supply to those cells, causing them to degenerate and eventually die. The nerve fibres around the affected blood vessels are also harmed, reducing their effectiveness. The disease of the tiny bloody vessels can also affect other areas of the brain, including the base, if blood vessels are blocked here it could cause small infarcts – also known as an ischaemic stroke.

Cause 2 – The second most common cause of VD is following a stroke. Strokes occur when the blood supply to the brain is suddenly cut-off, this can be as a result of a blood clot (an ischaemic stroke) or less commonly, where a blood vessel ruptures and bleeds into the brain (a haemorrhagic stroke). Around 1 in 5 people who suffer a stroke will develop dementia on top of the side effects of the stroke itself. Most people who have suffered a stroke will have another and therefore the risk of developing dementia increases with each stroke event as more of the brain becomes damaged.

How can it affect someone?

The symptoms of VD can vary from person to person, often dictated by the root cause of the dementia, whether it be as a result of vascular disease, or following a stroke. The speed in which the symptoms can take hold can also vary, the damage following a stroke is often instantaneous, whereas the effects of vascular disease can develop over time.

Early symptoms and effects can include:

  • Problems concentrating on tasks – this could be shown in activities such as planning, making decisions or problem solving.   They may also struggle to follow instructions, and their thought process may be slower.
  • Mild memory loss.
  • Problems with articulating what they want to say – their speech may become less fluent as they concentrate on finding the words.
  • Easily frustrated – this is often a result of the issues highlighted above.
  • Depression and sudden changes in mood – the depression is often as a result of the sufferer becoming aware of the cognitive effects (listed above).
  • Weak bladder – this is associated with subcortical VD sufferers, and can be accompanied by a weakness on one particular side of their body.
  • Dizziness or tremors.

As the disease progresses (stroke-related VD often will become worse following each new stroke episode; whereas subcortical VD will worsen gradually), long term symptoms and effects include:

  • Severe confusion and memory loss – day to day tasks become harder and sufferers are likely to need support on a daily basis.
  • Problems with communication and comprehension.
  • Changes to their personality and behaviour – they can become aggressive, irritable and easily agitated.
  • Suffer delusions and hallucinations.

What treatments are available?

Sadly the brain damage caused by VD cannot be treated to stop the degeneration, nor can it be reversed. However, with careful and managed support an individual with VD can continue to live well.

Caring for a loved one with VD can be hard, but these simple tips can help you support your loved one and give them some much-needed structure when they need it:

  • Establish a routine – this will help them feel less agitated.
  • Keep them occupied – it is important to help keep their mind and body active (where possible), whether it be a short walk, social activities or something as simple as tending to plants. This helps add structure to their day to day lives, as well as providing a sense of purpose.
  • Don’t be afraid to communicate with your loved one – though they may struggle to comprehend you, it is important they do not feel isolated and a smile or arm around the shoulder can help you both feel comfortable.

As well as taking on the care yourself, there are many different types of external support available, and family and friends of those with the disease are encouraged to explore these options. UK Care Guide was founded to offer honest and reliable support for anyone needing care for themselves or a relative – and our website contains a wealth of information about ongoing care, the costs of care (including our handy Care Calculator) and your options for care for your loved one.

Thanks to the UK Care Guide for their recent Blog Article.