Vascular dementia is the decline in the level of thinking skills as a result of conditions that reduce or block the flow of blood to the brain, thus depriving it of the vital oxygen supply and nutrients. It is mostly associated with a stroke or several strokes. Although the strokes can be small in extent, their damage can accumulate over time. This can lead to confusion, memory loss among other signs. Vascular dementia accounts for up to 40% of all dementia cases in old adults (Paul, 2005).
Depending on the individual and how severe the stroke(s) are, vascular dementia may be registered gradually or suddenly. Today, there is no known cure for the disease. However, appropriate lifestyle changes and strategies can help prevent strokes, work around cognitive losses and slow its progression. There are various signs and symptoms of vascular dementia depending on the person. Some symptoms are similar to those of other dementias and are usually a reflection of the individual’s difficulty in undertaking day to day activities such as dressing, eating or shopping. Common emotional and mental signs and symptoms include: slowed thinking; hallucinations and delusions; unusual mood changes such as irritability; confusion; loss of social skills and personality changes; memory problems (Paul, 2005).
Physical signs include dizziness; tremors; limb weakness; balance problems; shuffling of steps; loss of bladder and bowel movement. Behavioral symptoms include slurred speech; uncontrollable laughing or crying; difficulty in performing easy tasks; difficulty in organizing, planning or following instructions.
Stroke or small vessel disease may cause vascular dementia. In both of these causes, there is a blockage of the small blood vessels in the wide system of arteries feeding the brain with oxygen and nutrients. Blockages may be caused by buildup of plaque inside the wall of the artery or as a result of blood clots that have loosened themselves and clogged a blood tributary downstream. In addition to strokes, other causes of vascular dementia include high blood pressure and hypertension. Less common causes include autoimmune inflammatory diseases of the artery like temporal arteritis and lupus. These diseases may be treated using drugs that work by suppressing the immune system (Paul, 2005).
There are several normal cognitive deficits or impairments related to aging that do not constitute dementia. These are a set of symptoms and not specific diseases or medical conditions. They include subtle issues related to planning, day-to-day memory, attention, visual-spatial skills (space and sight), and language. These symptoms, although also prevalent in dementia are less pronounced and severe. It is important to note that memory loss is not inevitable for the aging population. This is because the brain has the ability to produce new brain cells regardless of the age. Significant memory loss should not be treated as an inevitable effect from aging. However, one has to exercise memory use so as not to lose it.
The normal age-related cognitive changes are different from cognitive changes as a result of dementia. These differences may be seen by noting that the individual’s ability to do the things that they are used to doing often should not be affected considerably. In addition, the knowledge and wisdom acquired over their lifetimes; commonsense and ability to reason should not be affected by aging. The information on these distinctions is important because it informs care-givers on how to deal with cases of cognitive changes in the aged.
Paul, R. H. (2005). Vascular dementia cerebrovascular mechanisms and clinical management. Totowa, N.J.: Humana Press.