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Caregiver Training Blog

Types of Dementia: Vascular Dementia

You've probably heard of Alzheimer's disease in the context of learning about dementia, but other types of the condition exists. It's helpful to know about the different types that you may encounter — such as vascular dementia and Lewy body dementia — and how they differ in terms of dementia symptoms, causes, and other factors.

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What causes this type of dementia?

Vascular dementia occurs when people have small strokes in the front part of the brain. People might not know they’re having these little strokes, that’s how small they are. After a while they accumulate and create vascular lesions that impair cognition.

Some people do also develop dementia after large, classic strokes where they lose motor control and sensory functioning on one half of their body. But commonly, dementia stems from these small strokes.

Risk factors 

Vascular dementia shares the same risk factors as for vascular disease. These factors can contribute to this type of dementia:

  • Smoking
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Lack of exercising

To protect the brain, it helps to reduce these risk factors by not smoking, exercising and getting hypertension and high cholesterol under control.

Memory loss

Like all dementia types, vascular dementia involves memory loss. However, memory impairments present a little bit differently with this type of dementia. A doctor may ask a patient to remember three words: apricot, table and penny. After a distraction, the patient might not remember any of the three words, but will respond correctly when given cues or prompts like “fruit” or “coin.”

One of the ways doctors start to determine whether a patient has this type of dementia or Alzheimer's disease is by determining whether they have promptable or non-promptable memory loss.

Different patterns of decline

People with Alzheimer's disease typically experience a continuous, gradual decline. Those with vascular dementia often exhibit a classic stair-step downward pattern of decline. In this type of dementia, patients will experience a decline after having a stroke. Then they'll stay at that level until they have another stroke, which precipitates another step down in terms of cognitive loss.

If you can reduce the vascular disease risk factors in patients with this type of dementia, it can help. A person might have a stroke and then quit smoking and get their hypertension and high cholesterol under control, preventing another step down, for example.

Helping those affected

Knowing whether someone you love or care for has vascular dementia or another type of the condition can help you tailor their care to fit their needs. For more information, download our free ebook Most Common Types of Dementia: A Caregiver’s Guide to Alzheimer’s Disease, Vascular Dementia, Lewy Body Dementia and More.

If you're looking for a comprehensive resource for family caregivers, check out our online Family Caregiver Guide.

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