According to the National Institute on Aging (NIA), vascular dementia also called vascular cognitive impairment (VCI) is the second most common dementia after Alzheimer’s disease (AD). While the symptoms may appear similar to Alzheimer’s disease, the cause is completely different. Alzheimer’s disease is caused by a buildup in the brain of beta amyloid and tau proteins. Vascular dementia occurs when there are blockings and damage to arteries that carry blood flow to the brain. This can be due to a stroke or even a few mini strokes called transient ischemic attacks (TIA) that are caused by bleeding in the brain or by blood clots. The longer the blood flow to the brain is cut off by this stroke or mini strokes, the greater is the damage to the brain.
Vascular Dementia can get Better or Worse
Like a stroke, vascular dementia can come on very suddenly and has the potential to get better as the brain heals or to get worse, especially if the person experiences a second stroke. According to the National Institute on Aging (NIA), this post-stroke dementia can appear months after having had a stroke.
A silent stroke is one that has gone unnoticed and never gets diagnosed. In fact, it is estimated that 20-30% of people experience a silent stroke. The biggest danger from this unnoticed and undiagnosed stroke is the occurrence of another stroke. When a stroke is noticed and diagnosed, proper medical treatment can keep another stroke from happening. Unfortunately, in the case of a silent stroke that goes unnoticed, no treatment is given and thus there can occur another more serious stroke.
Some people have both Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia. This is not so unusual and it is estimated that about 45% of people with dementia have this kind of mixed dementia. The main difference between the two is that Alzheimer’s disease usually progresses slowly, while vascular dementia can occur very suddenly.
Risk Factors for Vascular Dementia
- Hemorrhagic strokes that cause bleeding in the brain
- High blood pressure that can cause an artery to burst
- Family history of strokes
- Anxiety and stress
- Sleep disorders
- High levels of oxidized LDL cholesterol
Symptoms of Vascular Dementia that Resemble Alzheimer’s Disease
While Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia have many symptoms in common, memory loss is usually more severe in Alzheimer’s. Common symptoms are:
- Memory loss
- Inability to reason
- Difficulty making plans and decisions
- Difficulty in solving problems
Treatment for Vascular Dementia
So far, no treatment has been found to reverse the damage caused by bleeding in the brain. However, medication may be prescribed to prevent further strokes. It is very important to only take medicines that the doctor prescribes. Many drugs and over-the-counter drugs like non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) including aspirin and ibuprofen can cause bleeding.
There are also many herbs and dietary supplements that can cause bleeding in the body and in the brain. Let your doctor know about any herbs spices or supplements you may also be taking. Many herbs and spices like ginger, ginkgo, willow bark, licorice root, turmeric, ginseng, chamomile, purslane and more can cause bleeding. Omega 3 fish oil capsules can also cause bleeding. It is far safer to eat fish than to take these kinds of fish oil supplements. Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cabbage contain rich amounts of Vitamin K which can help prevent bleeding.
- Quit smoking
- Keep your blood pressure under control
- Manage diabetes
- Avoid alcoholic drinks – see our blog post from March 21, 2018 for more about alcohol abuse and dementia.
- Eat a healthy diet with lots of fresh fruits, vegetables and fish like the Mediterranean Diet.
- Do not drink coffee, which can raise blood pressure and increase the rate of the heartbeat.
- Get a good night’s sleep
- Get adequate physical exercise
- Make sure to drink enough good fresh water every day.
- Learn how to manage stress
- Use table salt in moderation, as salt can raise blood pressure. Do not completely avoid all salt, however, unless your doctor specifically asks you to avoid salt. Avoid salty processed meats as these contain large amounts of salt and chemicals like nitrates.
Vascular Dementia can Lead to the Need for Long-term Skilled Nursing Care
Vascular dementia can lead to the need for long-term skilled nursing care. The Van Duyn Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing in Syracuse, New York offers memory care and long-term skilled nursing care to people with dementia. Van Duyn also has a fantastic array of recreational programs to encourage socialization.
It certainly pays to try to try to prevent strokes that can lead to vascular dementia.