How much do you know about vascular dementia? The condition can be complex and can present many challenges for the person affected by it. The more you understand about vascular dementia as a carer, the better placed you will be to provide the appropriate care and compassion for your loved one. Here are 10 key facts about vascular dementia…

It’s a common form of dementia

Vascular dementia is the second most common form of dementia in those over the age of 65 (Alzheimer’s disease is the most common and affects around 850,000 people in Britain). It is believed that around 150,000 people in the UK have vascular dementia. It is unusual in people under the age of 65.

Blood clots or strokes cause vascular dementia

The condition is caused by impaired blood flow to the brain due to small blood clots preventing oxygen reaching the brain which are sometimes called TIAs – this stands for Transient Ischaemic Attacks. These are also known as mini strokes. A stroke where the blood supply to the brain is suddenly cut off due to a blood clot can also cause vascular dementia. So too can small vessel disease – which is where small blood vessels deep inside the brain are narrowed. Unfortunately once the damage is done, it cannot be reversed. Risk factors for vascular dementia include smoking, being overweight and high blood pressure.

Symptoms of vascular dementia are many and varied

Symptoms of vascular include problems with memory, language, thinking and making decisions and judgements. Thoughts can be slow to come to the person and they may struggle to concentrate. Vascular dementia can also affect a person’s mood, personality and behaviour. They may feel disorientated and may be confused from time to time. They may struggle to make decisions and will ask you for advice over basic things.

Balance and coordination can be affected

A lesser known symptom of vascular dementia is problems with balance and coordination, which can make the person prone to falls. Make sure you accompany the person when they go out for walks and ensure their house is free from clutter that can cause them to trip, such as frayed mats and furniture in the middle of the room. In the long term, the person may struggle with walking and their mobility may be gradually reduced over time.

Getting a vascular dementia diagnosis may take some time

The GP should talk to the person about their symptoms and history and arrange blood tests which they may use to rule out other conditions such as depression or a vitamin deficiency. They may also carry out blood pressure and pulse checks and speak to a close relative of the person to get more information on how their daily life has been affected.

An MRI or CT scan may be useful

A person who is suspected to have vascular dementia may be offered an MRI scan or a CT scan to look at any changes in the brain. The GP may also conduct a mental ability test – the most common is called the General Practitioner Assessment of Cognition Test which screens the person for cognitive impairment. It in involves the GP asking the person questions and then completion of a questionnaire if the GP thinks it is necessary.

Medication can only treat symptoms

At present there are no specific treatments for vascular dementia, but the person’s GP may prescribe medication to treat risk factors for the condition, such as high blood pressure or diabetes. They may also prescribe medication such as Donepezil or Galantamine to help treat the symptoms of the condition, but this is not a cure.

The person’s lifespan will be reduced

A person with vascular dementia will on average, live for around five years after they first start to experience symptoms. However, this is only a guideline. They may live longer, but it is thought that they won’t live as long as a person suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

Delusions and hallucinations can occur

In the latter stages of vascular dementia, a person may suffer from agitation and be more irritable than usual. They may also suffer from delusions and hallucinations. Try to distract the person if you think they are hallucinating or improve lighting if they are in a dimly-lit room. Remove any visual clutter. They may also hear things – you may want to get their hearing checked but they may hear voices. Reassure your loved one that you are there for them and try to be patient.

Communication can be a challenge

Communicating with a person with vascular dementia can be difficult as the person may struggle to concentrate or be unable to process what you are saying. Or they may understand you but be struggling to articulate a reply. They may forget words, or their sentences may be jumbled. When you talk to a person with dementia, speak clearly and don’t overload them with too much information at once.