Brain & nervesDisease, Condition & InjuryHead & neck conditions

Vascular Dementia

(Binswanger’s Disease; Senile Dementia; Binswanger’s Type; Vascular Cognitive Impairment; Arteriosclerotic Dementia; Atherosclerotic Disease)

Vascular Dementia – Definition

Vascular dementia is a cause of dementia. It is caused by disease of the small blood vessels in the brain. Parts of the brain called white matter (as well as subcortical grey matter) are injured by multiple small strokes.

Vascular Dementia – Causes

Vascular dementia occurs when cells below the surface of the brain (the cortex) receive an inadequate supply of oxygen and nutrients and, in turn, die. This process is due to hardening of the blood vessels within the white matter of the brain, which affects the blood supply. As a result, the oxygen and nutrient supply to the neurons and their supporting cells are also affected.

The exact cause is unknown. However, factors that play a role in causing the disease include:

  • High blood pressure (but probably also blood pressure that is too low for proper brain blood supply)
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Hardening of blood vessels ( atherosclerosis and lipohyalinosis)
  • Diabetes
  • Smoking

Vascular Dementia – Risk Factors

These risk factors increase your chance of developing vascular dementia. Tell your doctor if you have any of these risk factors:

  • Age: usually affects older people
  • Alzheimer’s dementia: can occur along with vascular dementia
  • High blood pressure (the most closely associated risk factor)
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Hardening of blood vessels (atherosclerosis and lipohyalinosis)
  • Diabetes
  • Smoking
  • Conditions that cause the blood to clot
  • Genetic disorders

Vascular Dementia – Symptoms

In some patients, symptoms appear suddenly with neurologic changes like those caused by a stroke. Sometimes, the small strokes that lead to vascular dementia can happen without other symptoms. This makes the condition difficult to detect.

In some cases, symptoms may stabilize or even improve. However, in most patients, the disease continues to progress.

The main symptoms of vascular dementia include:

  • Abrupt onset (in some, but not all patients)
  • Progressive deterioration of intellectual abilities, processing speed, cognitive and motor abilities
  • Progressive memory loss
  • Slow, unsteady gait
  • Fluctuating course (in some patients)
  • Focal neurological symptoms

Other symptoms that may be present include:

  • Incontinence
  • Laughing, crying, or smiling during inappropriate times
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Swallowing difficulties
  • Paralysis or weakness of one (or both) side(s) of the body
  • Apathy (loss of interest in activities)
  • Inactivity
  • Depression
  • Parkinson -like symptoms (eg, tremors, loss of coordination, loss of trunk mobility)
  • Seizures
  • Nighttime confusion
  • Paranoia
  • Disorientation

Vascular Dementia – Diagnosis

The symptoms of vascular dementia can resemble other causes of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease.

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will also be done. Tests may include:

  • MRI scan — a test that uses magnetic waves to make pictures of your brain
  • CT scan — a type of x-ray that uses a computer to take pictures of your brain
  • Single photon-emission computed tomography (SPECT)
  • Neuropsychological testing
  • Ultrasound of the carotid arteries
  • Echocardiogram — a test that uses high-frequency sound waves to exam the size, shape, and motion of the heart; to test for causes of strokes
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG, EKG) — a test that records the heart’s activity by measuring electrical currents through the heart muscle; to test for causes of strokes
  • Blood work to test for problems with blood clotting
  • Electroencephalogram (EEG) — a test for abnormalities in the patterns of brain waves

Vascular Dementia – Treatment

There is no known cure for vascular dementia. Minimizing risk factors and alleviating symptoms are important in trying to slow disease progression and improve quality of life.

Medicines can be given to help limit or control symptoms and possibly slow progression of the disease. These include:

  • Medicines to control:
    • High blood pressure
    • Heart arrhythmias
    • Stroke risk (eg, aspirin)
    • Increased cholesterol
    • Conditions that cause the blood to clot
  • Antidepressant medicines
  • Nimodipine — may help improve cognitive function in the short-term (no evidence to support its long term use)
  • Medicines used to treat Alzheimer’s disease, such as donepezil (eg, Aricept) and memantine (eg, Namenda)

Vascular Dementia – Prevention

There are no definitive guidelines for the prevention of vascular dementia. However, the following may help reduce your risk:

  • Don’t smoke. If you smoke, quit.
  • Eat a diet that is low in fat and low in salt.
  • If you drink alcohol, do so only in moderation. Moderate alcohol intake is two drinks per day for men; one drink per day for women.
  • Have your blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels checked regularly (at least once per year).
  • Avoid low blood pressure. If you get dizzy when you stand up or have a history of fainting, talk to your doctor.

Related Articles

Back to top button