Vascular dementia is a decline in thinking and cognitive skills caused by a blockage or reduced blood flow to the brain, which deprives the brain of much needed oxygen and nutrients. It is the second most common cause for dementia after Alzheimer's disease, accounting for about 10% of all cases. Vascular dementia is most frequently associated with stroke, but high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes may also contribute to vascular dementia.

While vascular dementia is irreversible, a heart-healthy lifestyle may reduce your risk of developing it. Exercise, a low-fat diet, and blood pressure and cholesterol level management can slow, or in some cases halt, the progression of the disease.

Symptoms

Patients experiencing vascular dementia following a stroke may experience a sudden onset of symptoms that include:

  • confusion
  • trouble speaking or concentrating
  • loss of vision
  • difficulty solving problems or completing tasks
  • problems with bladder and bowel control
  • hallucinations
  • being easily agitated or upset

Causes

Vascular dementia is caused by brain damage due to impaired blood flow to the brain. The most common cause is stroke, but vascular dementia can also be the result of any condition that narrows or damages blood vessels, including brain hemorrhage, diabetes, and the normal wear-and-tear of aging. Transient ischemic attacks, or "mini strokes," can also increase the risk of developing vascular dementia.

Treatments

There is currently no cure for vascular dementia, so the goal of treatment is to maximize the patient's cognitive abilities. A doctor will recommend a treatment plan that is tailored to a patient's individual needs. The treatment plan may include medication, mental exercises, and the assistance of a caregiver. As dementia progresses, the patient will need more help with everyday tasks and personal care.

The Mayo Clinic recommends certain lifestyle changes that may help reduce the risk of vascular dementia, such as regular exercise, a low-fat diet, quitting smoking, and controlling high blood pressure or diabetes.