Vascular dementia, which is commonly associated with left-hemisphere stroke, impacts reasoning, planning, judgment, memory and other thought processes. It’s caused by brain damage from impaired blood flow and other conditions that damage blood vessels and reduce circulation. The onset of vascular dementia depends on the location and size of the damaged brain area.
Factors and symptoms of vascular dementia
Factors that increase your risk of heart disease and stroke also raise your vascular dementia risk:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Memory loss
- Language problems (aphasia)
- Difficulty paying attention or following a conversation
- Difficulty planning and organizing tasks
- Difficulty with calculations, making decisions, solving problems
- Visual orientation problems, hallucinations
- Impaired motor skills
Can vascular dementia be treated?
Controlling conditions that affect the underlying health of your heart and blood vessels can sometimes slow the rate at which vascular dementia progresses and may prevent further decline. Depending on your situation, your health care professional may prescribe medications to:
- Lower your blood pressure.
- Reduce your cholesterol level.
- Prevent your blood from clotting and keep your arteries clear.
- Control your blood sugar if you have diabetes.
- Some Alzheimer’s medications also may help.
Tips to manage vascular dementia
If you have vascular dementia, you may become more dependent on family members or caregivers for daily living. Here are some practical strategies to manage the symptoms of vascular dementia:
- For memory problems, create lists, take notes and establish a regular routine.
- For cognitive (thinking) symptoms, work with a speech therapist, play card games and use puzzles and crosswords. Computer programs and applications may also sharpen brain functions.
- Manage stroke risk factors such as hypertension, diabetes and high cholesterol by taking medications prescribed by your health care professional and making lifestyle changes.
- Work with a physical or occupational therapist to regain and maintain independence.
- Participate in a support group to connect with others, practice social skills and seek advice. To find a support group in your area, visit the Stroke Support Group Registry.
- To manage depression and other emotional issues, seek a counselor or social worker.
If vascular dementia impacts your functioning at work, discuss your needs with your employer.
If you have severe vascular dementia, you may not be able to make financial or medical decisions. A medical power of attorney is a legal document that designates a person to make health care decisions for you. Living wills and advance directives are also legal documents that outline your preferences.
Caring for someone with dementia
Caring for a person with dementia can be physically and emotionally demanding. Anger, guilt, frustration, discouragement, worry, grief and social isolation are common.
Learn as much about vascular dementia as you can. Ask the primary care doctor or neurologist about good sources of information. Your local librarian also can help you find good resources.
Take care of yourself. See your doctors on schedule, eat healthy and exercise.
Seek support. People with dementia and their families benefit from counseling or local support services. Contact your Alzheimer’s Association local affiliate to connect with support groups, resources, referrals, home care agencies, residential care facilities, telephone help lines and educational seminars.
Encourage. You can help a person cope with vascular dementia by listening, reassuring them that life can be enjoyed and helping them retain dignity and self-respect.
Provide a calm environment. It can reduce worry and agitation. Establish a daily routine that includes comfortable activities for the person with vascular dementia.
New situations, excess noise, large groups of people, being rushed to remember or being asked to do complicated tasks can cause anxiety. As a person with dementia becomes upset, the ability to think clearly declines even more.
Paying attention to your needs and well-being is one of the most important things you can do for yourself and the person in your care.