Dementia is caused when the brain is damaged by diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease or a series of strokes. Vascular dementia is a common type of dementia caused by reduced blood flow to the brain. It’s estimated to affect around 150,000 people in the UK. Knowing the warning signs can help people to make lifestyle changes to slow down the progression – have you spotted these signs?
According to the Alzheimer’s Society, how vascular dementia affects people varies depending on the different underlying causes and more generally from person to person. “Symptoms may develop suddenly, for example after a stroke, or more gradually, such as with small vessel disease,” noted the charity.
The most common cognitive symptoms in the early stages of vascular dementia are:
- Problems with planning or organising, making decisions or solving problems
- Difficulties following a series of steps (eg cooking a meal)
- Slower speed of thought
- Problems concentrating, including short periods of sudden confusion
A person in the early stages of vascular dementia may also have difficulties with:
- Memory – problems recalling recent events (often mild)
- Language – eg speech may become less fluent
- Visuospatial skills – problems perceiving objects in three dimensions
In addition to cognitive symptoms, it is common for someone with early vascular dementia to experience mood changes, such as apathy, depression or anxiety, noted Alzheimer’s Society.
They may be prone to rapid mood swings
Depression is common, partly because people with vascular dementia may be aware of the difficulties the condition is causing, explained the health site.
A person with vascular dementia may also become generally more emotional. “They may be prone to rapid mood swings and being unusually tearful or happy,” said the charity.
How to treat vascular dementia
There is currently no cure for vascular dementia or a way to reverse the damage but certain lifestyle decisions can help prevent further damage to the brain in people with vascular dementia and may slow down its progression, explained the NHS.
The main aim of treatment for vascular dementia is to treat the underlying cause to help stop the condition getting worse.
This will usually involve making healthy lifestyle changes, such as:
- Eating healthily
- Losing weight if you’re overweight
- Stopping smoking
- Getting fit
- Cutting down on alcohol
According to Alzheimer’s Society, people should follow a a diet consisting of plenty of fruit, vegetables and oily fish but not too much fat or salt, to slow down the progression.
If someone is depressed or anxious, talking therapies (such as cognitive behavioural therapy) or drug treatments may also be tried, said the charity.
Medication may also be offered to treat the underlying cause of vascular dementia and help stop it getting worse, explained the NHS.
If the underlying cardiovascular diseases that have caused vascular dementia can be controlled, it may be possible to slow down the progression of the dementia, noted the Alzheimer’s Society.
“For example, after someone has had a stroke or TIA (mini stroke), treatment of high blood pressure can reduce the risk of further stroke and dementia,” noted the health site.
For stroke-related dementia in particular, with treatment there may be long periods when the symptoms don’t get significantly worse, it added.
- Medication for high blood pressure
- Statins to treat high cholesterol
- Medicines such as aspirin or clopidogrel to reduce the risk of blood clots and further strokes
- Anticoagulant medication, such as warfarin, which can also reduce the risk of Blood clots and further strokes
- Medication for diabetes
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