What is vascular dementia? Early signs, stages, types, and treatment

Vascular dementia is the second most common type of dementia after Alzheimer’s. It is often caused by conditions that disrupt or restrict blood flow to the brain such as a stroke. This can affect memory, reasoning, thinking, and behaviour. Vascular dementia can also result from other conditions that affect blood vessels and reduce circulation to the brain such as diabetes. It can occur by itself or alongside another form of dementia.

Diagnosing vascular dementia

To diagnose vascular dementia, a doctor may assess any changes in an individual’s thinking and behaviour, and whether it is affecting their ability to carry out daily activities. This could include conducting memory or thinking tests. They may also look into an individual’s medical history, conduct other examinations to test coordination, reflexes, and strength, as well as carry out brain imaging to check for blood vessel damage. However, it can be difficult to distinguish vascular dementia from other forms of dementia because of the similarities in symptoms.

Some common symptoms of vascular dementia are:

  • Problems with decision-making or problem-solving
  • Trouble with planning or following steps
  • Difficulties concentrating
  • Slowed thinking
  • Reduced ability to decide what to do next
  • Restlessness
  • Depression 
  • Problems with memory
  • Difficulties communicating and finding the right words 

Symptoms and their development vary based on whether the vascular dementia can be clearly linked to a stroke or even a series of smaller strokes. This can make the process different from the progressive decline (linear) that often occurs with Alzheimer’s. The progression of vascular dementia is often described as a fluctuating decline (stepwise). However, vascular dementia can also occur at the same time as Alzheimer’s.

Causes of vascular dementia

Vascular dementia can be caused by a stroke, or multiple strokes, which damage blood vessels in the brain and interrupt the flow of blood and oxygen to it. However, strokes don’t always cause vascular dementia. It can also result from other conditions that affect blood vessels and circulation that affect blood flow and delivery of oxygen to the brain. The severity, number, and location of the stroke(s) are factors that will influence which brain functions are affected and the risk for dementia. Untreated high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or diabetes can increase a person’s risk of vascular dementia.

The 7 stages of vascular dementia

How long an individual will experience each one of the 7 stages of vascular dementia can vary. Some people experience relatively slow progression between stages, whereas for others this can be more rapid.

Is Vascular dementia hereditary?

In most cases, vascular dementia is not hereditary. However, underlying health issues that can increase a person’s risk of vascular dementia can be passed on from one generation to another. This can include high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle and staying physically active are therefore important for preventing vascular dementia.

Is there a cure for vascular dementia?

There is no cure for vascular dementia, however, there are many options for treating the condition that can slow its progression. One of these is medication, which prevents additional strokes and reduces the risk of brain damage. Another is to treat risk factors such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol by making healthy lifestyle changes. This may also help to reduce the risk of further strokes or vascular brain damage. 

The most important thing to consider when caring for or supporting an individual with dementia is that the care is person-centred. This means that it should focus on them specifically – including their personal history, relationships, preferences, and needs – rather than just on their condition. 

There are a number of person-centred activities and therapies that can help a person living with dementia maintain their abilities and quality of life. Such as occupational therapy, or meaningful activities that help with cognitive stimulation. 

The Tovertafel, for example, is a great tool for helping stimulate cognitive activity. Developed specifically for seniors living with dementia and other audiences such as children with special needs, the Tovertafel works by projecting interactive lights onto flat surfaces in the form of games. The games are scientifically proven to stimulate physical activity, social interaction, and cognition. This helps promote moments of happiness and connection for people living with dementia and those caring for them. Many care facilities and caregivers worldwide are already experiencing what the Tovertafel can do to help families engage with their loved ones and improve their well-being.

How to deal with (vascular) dementia as a family member?

Caring for someone with dementia can be difficult. However, learning about the condition, as well as receiving the right support can make a huge difference in helping to manage the condition. 

Some caregivers find that support groups are a great help, enabling them to share their concerns, questions, experiences, and tips. Many organisations have in-person and online support groups for people with vascular dementia and their loved ones.There are also lots of ways that care institutions and caregivers can help improve the quality of care and life for those living with vascular dementia. Such as daily physical activity, social interaction, and more. Tools such as the Tovertafel can be instrumental in increasing positive emotions and helping make day-to-day life happier, brighter, and easier for people living with vascular dementia and those who care for them.

Discover the Tovertafel and its games

  • Seniors | Dementia

    Stimulating physical, social, and cognitive activity in elderly people living with dementia

    View games

    View games
  • Adults | Intellectual Disabilities

    The effects of physical activity for people with intellectual disabilities

    View games

    View games