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Overview - Vascular dementia

Vascular dementia is a common type of dementia caused by reduced blood flow to the brain. It's estimated to affect around 150,000 people in the UK.

Dementia is the name for problems with mental abilities caused by gradual changes and damage in the brain. It's rare in people under 65.

Vascular dementia tends to get worse over time, although it's sometimes possible to slow it down.

Symptoms of vascular dementia

Vascular dementia can start suddenly or begin slowly over time.

Symptoms include:

  • slowness of thought
  • difficulty with planning and understanding
  • problems with concentration
  • changes to your mood, personality or behaviour
  • feeling disoriented and confused
  • difficulty walking and keeping balance
  • symptoms of Alzheimer's disease, such as problems with memory and language (many people with vascular dementia also have Alzheimer's disease)

These problems can make daily activities increasingly difficult and someone with the condition may eventually be unable to look after themselves.

Getting medical advice

See a GP if you think you have early symptoms of dementia, especially if you're over 65 years of age.

If it's found at an early stage, treatment may be able to stop vascular dementia getting worse, or at least slow it down.

If you're worried about someone else, encourage them to make an appointment with a GP and perhaps suggest that you go with them.

Your GP can do some simple checks to try to find the cause of your symptoms. They can refer you to a memory clinic or another specialist for further tests if needed.

Find out more about how to get dementia diagnosis.

Tests for vascular dementia

There's no single test for vascular dementia.

The tests that are needed to make a diagnosis include:

  • an assessment of symptoms – for example, whether these are typical symptoms of vascular dementia
  • a full medical history, including asking about a history of conditions related to vascular dementia, such as strokes or high blood pressure
  • an assessment of mental abilities – this will usually involve several tasks and questions
  • a brain scan, such as an MRI scan or CT scan, to look for any changes that have happened in your brain

Find out more about the tests used to diagnose dementia.

Treatments for vascular dementia

There's currently no cure for vascular dementia and there's no way to reverse any loss of brain cells that happened before the condition was diagnosed.

But treatment can sometimes help slow down vascular dementia.

Treatment aims to tackle the underlying cause, which may reduce the speed at which brain cells are lost.

This will often involve:

Other treatments, including physiotherapy, occupational therapy, dementia activities (such as memory cafes) and psychological therapies, can help reduce the impact of any existing problems.

Outlook for vascular dementia

Vascular dementia will usually get worse over time. This can happen in sudden steps, with periods in between where the symptoms do not change much, but it's difficult to predict when this will happen.

Home-based help will usually be needed, and some people will eventually need care in a nursing home.

Although treatment can help, vascular dementia can significantly shorten life expectancy.

But this is highly variable, and many people live for several years with the condition, or die from some other cause.

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with dementia, remember that you're not alone. The NHS and social services, as well as voluntary organisations, can provide advice and support for you and your family.

Causes of vascular dementia

Vascular dementia is caused by reduced blood flow to the brain, which damages and eventually kills brain cells. 

This can happen as a result of:

In many cases, these problems are linked to underlying conditions, such as high blood pressure and diabetes, and lifestyle factors, such as smoking and being overweight.

Tackling these might reduce your risk of vascular dementia in later life, although it's not yet clear exactly how much your risk of dementia can be reduced.

More information

Living with dementia

Living well with dementia 

Staying independent with dementia 

Dementia activities 

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 

Dementia UK: nurse helpline

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

Dementia Friends

Alzheimer's Society: Dementia forum

Information:

Social care and support guide

If you:

  • need help with day-to-day living because of illness or disability
  • care for someone regularly because they're ill, elderly or disabled, including family members

Our guide to care and support explains your options and where you can get support.

Page last reviewed: 5 March 2020
Next review due: 5 March 2023