Vascular dementia

Definition

Dementia is a gradual and permanent loss of brain function. This occurs with certain diseases. It affects memory, thinking, language, judgment, and behavior.

Vascular dementia (VaD) is caused by a series of small strokes over a long period.

Causes

VaD dementia is the second most common cause of dementia after Alzheimer disease in people over age 65.

Vascular dementia is caused by a series of small strokes.

Risk factors for VaD include:

Symptoms of dementia may also be caused by other types of disorders of the brain. One such disorder is Alzheimer disease. Symptoms of Alzheimer disease can be similar to those of VaD. VaD and Alzheimer disease are the most common causes of dementia, and may occur together.

Symptoms

Symptoms of VaD may develop gradually or may progress after each small stroke.

Symptoms may begin suddenly after each stroke. Some people with VaD may improve for short periods, but decline after having more silent strokes.

Early symptoms of dementia can include:

As dementia worsens, symptoms are more obvious and the ability to take care of oneself declines. Symptoms may include:

Nervous system (neurologic) problems that occur with a stroke may also be present.

Exams and Tests

Tests may be ordered to help determine whether other medical problems could be causing dementia or making it worse, such as:

Other tests may be done to find out what parts of thinking have been affected and to guide other tests.

Tests that can show evidence of previous strokes in the brain may include:

Treatment

There is no treatment to turn back damage to the brain caused by small strokes.

An important goal is to control symptoms and correct the risk factors. To prevent future strokes:

The goals of helping someone with dementia in the home are to:

Medicines may be needed to control aggressive, agitated, or dangerous behaviors.

Medicines used to treat Alzheimer disease have not been shown to work for VaD.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Some improvement may occur for short periods, but the disorder will generally get worse over time.

Possible Complications

Complications include the following:

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your doctor if symptoms of VaD occur. Go to the emergency room or call the local emergency number (such as 911) if there is a sudden change in mental status, sensation, or movement. These are emergency symptoms of stroke.

Prevention

Control conditions that increase the risk of hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis) by:


Review Date: 2/27/2018
Reviewed By: Joseph V. Campellone, MD, Department of Neurology, Cooper Medical School at Rowan University, Camden, NJ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Internal review and update on 04/15/2019 by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

This information should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. © 1997- 2007 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.