Vascular Dementia:
Does It Affect Memory?

By M. Chris Wolf, PH.D.

Vascular dementia, describes the impairment of memory, planning, judgment, and other executive functions of the brain caused by decreased blood flow to the brain tissue. The cause of the decreased blood flow is damage to the blood vessels in the brain. The damage to the blood vessels can be caused by as multitude of factors including blockage and ruptures in the blood vessels caused by strokes; high blood pressure; and chronically narrowed blood vessels caused by the buildup of plaque, as in atherosclerosis. This form of dementia is the second most common type of dementia in the United States. The good news is that people can reduce their risk of memory loss and other cognitive impairments associated with this type of dementia by reducing risk factor by not smoking, exercise and eating a healthy diet.

The Symptoms

The symptoms associated with this type of dementia might have a sudden onset, as is the case with strokes, or the symptoms may appear gradually as with atherosclerosis. The signs of vascular dementia include:

  • Confusion;
  • Difficulty with paying attention and concentrating;
  • Difficulty organizing thoughts;
  • Short-term and long-term memory loss;
  • Decreased planning ability;
  • Decreased ability to communicate.

Additionally, in the most severe cases of this form of dementia, the person might experience hallucinations and/or delusions. If a person exhibits these symptoms, they need immediate evaluation by a neurologist or neuropsychologist in order to get a definitive diagnosis and to start a course of treatment. Many times early intervention can slow or minimize the memory loss and other cognitive impairment associated with this form of dementia. It also important to note in progressive forms of vascular dementia, deterioration in executive cognitive functions (planning, concentration, and reasoning) precede severe memory loss.

Diagnosis and Treatment

The diagnosis of this type of dementia involves a comprehensive medical and neuropsychological evaluation consisting of a detailedmedical history, mental status examination, neuropsychological testing, blood work, and brain imaging. Once the diagnosis is confirmed, the lead physician will review the test findings with the patient, family, and caregivers to provide the prognosis and recommended course of treatment.

Treatment for this form of dementia includes medication, rehabilitative therapy, support for caregivers and connection with resources in the community. The medications prescribed include those to increase the blood flow in the brain; cholinesterase inhibitors to slow the deterioration in the cognitive functioning; and antidepressants to address feelings of depression and anxiety as well as the agitation that might occur with dementia.

Also visit Causes of Memory Loss

See Brain Injury

Also review Dementia Overview

Visit Dementia and Alzheimer's Disease

For more information about this topic consider these resources:

When a Family Member Has Dementia: Steps to Becoming a Resilient Caregiver by Susan M. McCurry

Vascular Dementia [Kindle Edition] John Meyer (Editor), Gaiane Rauch (Editor), Helmut Lechner (Editor), Carlo Loeb(Editor)


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