Vascular dementia is the second-most common form of dementia after Alzheimer’s disease. In vascular dementia, a blocked or reduced flow of blood to the brain keeps brain cells from getting the oxygen they need; this has a negative impact on thinking skills. This impact can be sudden, especially after a large stroke, or it may be gradual and cumulative, occurring after numerous small strokes or other events that negatively affect the brain’s ability to receive an adequate supply of oxygen.
The effects of vascular dementia can vary widely, from quite mild in some cases to severe in others. Often a milder case progresses to a more severe case due to multiple strokes or other oxygen-depriving events.
Recognizing the potential signs of vascular dementia is important, especially as it relates to slowing the progression of symptoms from mild to severe. Signs typically associated with vascular dementia include:
- Memory loss, ranging from mild to severe
- Confusion, often even in familiar settings and situations
- Scattered concentration or shortened attention span
- Difficulty in organizing thoughts and keeping them organized
- Challenges in speaking (both in finding and forming words) and in grasping the import of others’ speech
- Disorientation in relation to either location or to time or both
- Struggles in making decisions or in understanding the differences between options when making decisions
- Outbursts of extreme emotion
As with any form of dementia, early diagnosis is very important to achieving an optimal outcome. If you believe a loved one may have vascular dementia, consult a doctor soon. Vascular dementia is under-diagnosed in the United States; it is better to be overly concerned than to risk missing a diagnosis altogether.
Diagnosis typically involves a series of neurocognitive tests and may also include magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the brain.