Dementia: Five questions about Vascular Dementia
Wednesday, January 20th, 2016 | Raising Awareness
There are 850,000 people suffering from dementia in the UK, affecting in 70% of all care home patients. These figures are set to increase to 1 million sufferers by 2025 and 2 million by 2051. With such high rates of diagnosis, it is vital that nationwide knowledge and understanding is improved. We have already looked into the well known Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, as well as the lesser heard of Lewy Bodies Dementia – and now we shall look at the strain that causes 17% of all dementia cases in the UK, Vascular Dementia.
Perhaps surprisingly, Vascular Dementia is the second most common form of dementia; falling substantially behind Alzheimer’s and just ahead of Parkinson’s. It affects around 150,000 people in the UK and causes common dementia symptoms, caused by problems with blood supply to the brain.
History of Vascular Dementia dates back to the 17th century, when cases were described by Thomas Willis in 1672. In the two centuries following this, “brain congestion” was a common diagnosis for the disease, until 1894 when Vascular Dementia was segregated from other, similar illnesses. Then in 1960, neuropathic and clinical studies in England led to the official naming and outlines of Vascular Dementia as we know it today.
1) What causes Vascular Dementia? Vascular Dementia is caused by a reduction in blood flow to the brain, which damages and eventually kills brain cells.
There are three main reasons for the reduction in blood flow:
- Narrowing of small blood vessels inside the brain – referred to as Small Vessel Disease or Subcortial Vascular Dementia
- Blood supply cut off via a stroke – known as Post-Stroke Dementia or Single Infarct Dementia
- Multiple mini-strokes – sometimes referred to as multi-infarct dementia
There are multiple avoidable health concerns that can cause damage to the blood vessels that can induce Vascular Dementia. These include, smoking, poor diet, lack of exercise, obesity and excessive alcohol consumption.
2) What are the symptoms of Vascular Dementia? Unlike some forms of dementia, spotting the symptoms of Vascular Dementia early can not only slow down the progression, it can even halt it.
These early symptoms may be problems with attention span, language, planning, slow thought processes and behaviours. Collectively, these early symptoms are known as vascular cognitive impairment and could be easily missed or put diagnosed as something else.
If these symptoms aren’t spotted, the brain can get damaged and more advanced symptoms can develop quickly; making everyday activities increasingly difficult. These symptoms come on in stages and sufferers can experience months, or even years, of stability before the next stage of decline occurs. Unfortunately, the length of these stages and severity of stages are difficult to predict.
Depending on which area of the brain are has been damaged, symptoms could include:
- Memory loss
- Confusion and disorientation
- Difficulty speaking
- Aggression, depression and personality changes
- Frequent falls and poor balance
3) How is Vascular Dementia treated? There is currently treatment to reverse the damage to a Vascular Dementia damaged brain, but treatments are available for slowing down the disease’s progression and prevent further damage. Once you are diagnosed with Vascular Dementia, a care plan will be drawn up to implement all treatments and assistance necessary.
As strokes and other underlying illnesses are common causes of Vascular Dementia, treating these is a main aim to slow down the progression, or even onset, of the disease. Medication and lifestyle changes; such as weight loss, stopping smoking and healthy eating, are the two main ways to do this.
Physical and mental therapies are available to help sufferers cope with Vascular dementia too, such as:
- Occupational therapy to identify everyday life challenges
- Speech and language therapy to help with communication
- Physiotherapy to help with movement
- Psychological treatment for cognitive stimulation, and
- Relaxation therapies, such as aromatherapy and massage
4) How can Vascular Dementia be prevented? As said previously, Vascular Dementia is bought on by various underlying health issues, so tackling these can help prevent the onset of VD.
A few healthy lifestyle choices can be hugely beneficial in reducing illness and poor health that can bring on Vascular Dementia, such as:
- Healthy eating – lots of fruit and veg, low-salt diets etc
- Losing weight
- Stopping smoking
- Daily exercise
- Reducing alcohol intake
5) What can you do to help a Vascular Dementia sufferer? Patience, support and reassurance are the best ways to help a Vascular Dementia sufferer stay positive and manage with their new daily challenges. Sufferers often feel vulnerable as they lose their independence and rely on other people to do more and more for them, so avoiding criticism of their actions is very important.
Once a dementia sufferer falls ill, their life should continue as normally as possible, to help keep them motivated, active and happy. Continuing to fulfil hobbies and activities can make a huge difference to a sufferer’s mental attitude.
As a carer, it is also important your life doesn’t stop either. Taking care of yourself, participating in your own hobbies and interests and, however difficult it may seem, having time to yourself is just as important as looking after a sufferer. If you are not happy and recuperated, it will only become more difficult and frustrating having to care for a relative or friend.
If you know someone suffering from any form of dementia, you can read about more strains and how to help manage them, here.