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Vascular Dementia: Causes, Signs and Symptoms

Article by Daniel Westhead Daniel Westhead Sure Safe Alarms

Vascular dementia is a type of dementia that occurs when there is damage to the brain's blood vessels. Estimated to affect around 150,000 people in the UK, it is a condition that is mostly found in those who are over the age of 65.

Vascular dementia can cause problems with thinking, memory, and other cognitive abilities and presents in a similar way to other forms of dementia, so can be difficult to diagnose.

If you believe that you or a loved one may be suffering from any form of dementia, it’s best to book an appointment as soon as possible with your GP.

While the symptoms of vascular dementia may be similar to other types, if you have been diagnosed with the condition it can feel helpful to understand more about the disease. With this in mind, we explore the causes, signs and symptoms of vascular dementia

What causes vascular dementia?

In essence, vascular dementia is caused by reduced blood flow to the brain which damages and ultimately kills brain cells.

Common causes of vascular dementia include:


When the blood supply to the brain it cut off it can cause damage to the brain. This type of dementia is known as post stroke dementia or single infarct dementia and tends to come on suddenly after a stroke

Mini Strokes

Also known as transient ischaemic attacks, these types of strokes can cause small but widespread damage to the brain and is knows as multi-infarct dementia. Often the patient will not be aware of these strokes, so again its important to get a diagnosis early and potentially stop further damage to the brain.

Difference between vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s disease

Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia, but vascular dementia is second most common. It affects about 10% of people over the age of 65.

Vascular dementia is different from Alzheimer's disease in that it is caused by damage to the brain's blood vessels, rather than by the build-up of plaques and tangles in the brain.

Unlike Alzheimer’s with vascular dementia, memory loss is not the typical initial symptom as the effects will vary depending on the area of the brain that has been affected. Often the initial signs that someone is suffering with vascular dementia are more issues with planning or decision making.

Symptoms of vascular dementia

Common symptoms of vascular dementia include problems with executive functioning (such as planning and decision-making), difficulties with language and communication, and changes in mood and behaviour. This can present in a number of ways, but some common signs include:

  • Slow thinking
  • Having difficulty in making plans
  • Having trouble concentrating
  • Changes to personality
  • Sudden mood swings
  • Feelings of confusion or disorientation
  • Difficulty in walking or with balance

Because the causes of vascular dementia can be sudden or happen over time, these symptoms may come on slowly or start suddenly after something like a stroke.

While damage to the brain caused by vascular dementia cannot be reversed, there are changes that can be made that can help to slow down the progress of the condition, so it’s vital that you speak to a medical professional if you or a loved one are displaying any of these symptoms.

Risk factors for vascular dementia

While the condition can be caused in several ways, there are some risk factors that can increase your chance of getting vascular dementia when you are older. These problems can increase the risk of damaging the blood vessels in your brain and include:

  • Smoking
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Being overweight or obsess
  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease

By making changes to your diet and lifestyle you can help to somewhat prevent vascular dementia, and even if you have been diagnosed with the condition – if it is caught in the early stages you can help to slow down the progression of the disease. Choosing to eat a heart healthy diet and undertaking regular exercise can help to give better long term outcomes.

Discover some of the best exercises for older people.

How is vascular dementia diagnosed?

A diagnosis of vascular dementia can be made by a doctor based on the person's symptoms and medical history. A brain scan or other imaging tests may also be done to look for changes in the brain that are associated with the condition.

Being forgetful or having personality changes are not always down to dementia, and can have other causes such as depression, an infection or as a side effect of medication you may be taking.

Often your GP or other medical professional will initially undertake a series of simple tests to both examine how your brain may be affected and also to rule out other conditions these may include:

Mental ability tests:

If you are showing symptoms that could be dementia a test known as a cognitive assessment may be undertaken. These are usually pen and paper test that assess several mental abilities such as memory, concentration, orientation and communication and language skills.

Blood tests

A GP will usually arrange for you to have a blood test to rule out other causes of your symptoms and may check for things like liver and kidney function, haemoglobin A1c (to check for diabetes) and your vitamin B12 levels, as low levels can affect your thinking.

Urine Tests

Your doctor may carry out a urine test to check for infection as infections (especially urinary tract infections) can cause symptoms which are similar to those of dementia.

Brain scans for vascular dementia

Brain scans are most often used after other, more simple tests have ruled out other causes of your symptoms.

Brain scans can be particularly helpful in finding evidence of possible causes and blood vessel damage caused by vascular dementia. For example, if the person has had a stroke this may be shown in the scan.

How is vascular dementia treated?

Sadly, there is no cure for vascular dementia, but treatments are available to help manage the symptoms. These include medications to treat cognitive problems, communication difficulties, and movement disorders. Therapies, such as occupational therapy and physical therapy, can also help with managing symptoms.

Treatment for vascular dementia focuses on managing the underlying conditions that are causing the damage to the brain's blood vessels. This may include lifestyle changes, such as eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly, as well as medications to lower blood pressure or cholesterol. In some cases, surgery may be necessary to repair damaged blood vessels.

Additionally, strategies to help with day-to-day living, such as memory aids and assistance with activities of daily living, can be extremely helpful.

Importantly, many people living with vascular dementia and their loved ones find that having a personal alarm can help to provide peace of mind. The SureSafe Dementia tracker helps to provide those with vascular dementia a better degree of independence while still helping to keep them safe. The alarm can help them live independently in their own homes for longer, while giving loved ones peace of mind that it can help keep them safe. The SureSafe Dementia tracker has a family and friends app that provides additional features such as checking on the their loved ones whereabouts, being able to call the pendant from the App, and having a ‘family chat’ feature where loved ones can ‘group text’ other nominated contacts about who is responding to alarm calls, amongst other things.

Here are SureSafe we have several devices that help to give peace of mind to dementia patients and their carers, with features such as GPS tracking, geofencing and fall detection.

If you would like some advice on the best device for you or a family member, why not get in touch with us on 0800 112 3201 where a member of our team can provide information on the best options for you or your loved one.

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