Vascular dementia is a common form of dementia that's estimated to affect more than 135,000 people in the UK.
The term dementia describes a loss of mental ability (cognitive impairment) associated with gradual death of brain cells. It's rare in anyone younger than 65.
Signs and symptoms
Many cases of vascular dementia start with early warning signs, including slight:
- slowness of thought
- difficulty with planning
- trouble with language
- problems with attention and concentration
- mood or behavioural changes
See your GP if you notice these signs. If it's spotted at an early stage, lifestyle changes and treatment may be able to stop the vascular dementia getting worse, or at least slow its progression.
Left untreated, your symptoms may continue to get worse.
Read more about the symptoms of vascular dementia.
What causes vascular dementia?
Vascular dementia is caused by reduced blood flow to the brain, which damages and eventually kills the brain cells.
This can develop as a result of:
- narrowing and blockage of the small blood vessels deep inside the brain (known as small vessel disease)
- a single large stroke (where the blood supply to part of the brain is suddenly cut off)
- lots of mini-strokes that cause tiny, but widespread, damage to the brain
In many cases, these problems are linked to underlying health conditions – such as high blood pressure and diabetes – as well as lifestyle factors, such as smoking and being overweight.
This may mean tackling these things might reduce your risk of vascular dementia in later life, as well as other serious problems such as strokes, although it's not yet clear exactly how much your risk of dementia can be reduced.
Read more about the causes of vascular dementia.
Diagnosing vascular dementia
See your GP if you think you may have early symptoms of dementia. If you're worried about someone else, encourage them to make an appointment and maybe suggest you go along with them.
Your GP can do some simple checks to see if there is a chance you could have dementia, and they can refer you to a specialist if necessary.
The specialist will carry out a physical check-up and an assessment of your mental abilities. You may also have blood tests and brain scans.
The results of these checks and tests will give your doctor a good idea as to whether your symptoms are caused by vascular dementia, another type of dementia, or something else entirely.
Read more about the diagnosis of vascular dementia.
How vascular dementia is managed
There is no specific treatment for vascular dementia and no way to reverse the damage to the brain that has already occurred. However, treatment may help slow down the progression of the condition.
Medicines and lifestyle changes will be recommended to tackle the underlying cause, such as high blood pressure.
Support such as physiotherapy, occupational therapy and speech and language therapy can help people regain lost functions, and dementia activities such as memory cafés and some psychological therapies can help manage symptoms.
Read more about treating vascular dementia.
The symptoms of vascular dementia will usually get steadily worse over time. This often happens in sudden steps, with relatively stable periods in between, although it's difficult to predict when these steps will happen.
Although treatment can help, vascular dementia can significantly shorten life expectancy. The average survival time from diagnosis is around four years.
Most people will die either from complications of dementia, such as pneumonia, or from a subsequent stroke.
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with dementia, you are not alone. The NHS, social services and voluntary organisations will be able to provide advice and support to help you and your family.
Living with dementia
Find dementia activities near you
Living well with dementia
Staying independent with dementia
Looking after someone with dementia
Dementia and your relationships
Communicating with people with dementia
Coping with dementia behaviour changes
Care and support
Sources of help and support
Talk it through with a dementia nurse
Organising care at home
Dementia and care homes
Dementia, social services and the NHS
Dementia and your money
Managing legal affairs for someone with dementia
End of life planning
How you can help
Become a Dementia Friend
Share your dementia experiences
Page last reviewed: 22/01/2015
Next review due: 22/01/2017