The second most common type of dementia after Alzheimer’s is vascular dementia. This condition can occur after a single major stroke blocks a large blood vessel and cuts off the blood supply to a significant part of the brain that it feeds. This condition is also referred as ” post-stroke dementia”. The other vascular event that can produce a vascular dementia occurs when a series of small strokes or infarcts block small blood vessels in the brain. Although, the small strokes do not cause major symptoms in an among themselves, over time their cumulative or combined effects become noticeable. This condition is also known as multi-infarct dementia.
Symptoms of vascular dementia vary depending upon the specific areas of the brain that are deprived of blood. The impairments will occur in “steps” that are fairly sudden and noticeable change in functioning rather that the slow decline seen in Alzheimer’s. Doctors will sometimes refer to this change as a “stepwise” progression of alterations in functioning that are “patchy” in appearance.
People who have had a heart attack, have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, hardening of the arteries, and/or may be at risk for diabetes are vulnerable to a vascular dementia. The clinical presentation of vascular dementia will look different for each person. The symptoms seen with this type of dementia can include:
- Confusion, which may get worse at night.
- Memory problem; these may or may not be present depending upon whether or not the brain regions important for memory are affected.
- Difficulties with concentration, planning, communicating, and following instructions or commands.
- Reduced or lowered ability to carry out daily activities.
- Physical symptoms frequently seen during the early phase of a stroke include sudden weakness in one or more limbs, difficulty speaking, and /or confusion.
Someone who experiences a vascular event that leads to a dementia process can still live vibrant and productive lives. A perfect example is screen legend Kirk Douglas, who suffered a major stroke in 1996. Mr. Douglas remains active in the film industry and often makes public appearances . Also, on December 9, 2016, Mr. Douglas celebrated his 100th birthday!