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Our Mind Matters: Vascular Dementia

A monthly article brought to you by Senior Services Memory Support Programs

This month, we will take a closer look at vascular dementia, what it is, the symptoms and the risks. We know that dementia is a decline in thinking skills, but how do we know if someone is living with vascular dementia more specifically? Let’s take a look.

Vascular dementia occurs when a stroke or several small strokes blocks or reduces the blood flow to the brain. The interruption of the blood supply causes brain cells to lose oxygen and nutrients therefore damaging the areas of the brain that are affected by these vascular changes.

Those with vascular dementia, more commonly named multi-infarct dementia, often exhibit a classic stair-step downward pattern of decline. In this type of dementia, patients will experience a sudden 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. As a comparison, Alzheimer’s disease progresses slowly over many years with gradual changes in memory, thinking, reasoning, judgment, and executive functions, whereas with vascular dementia, these changes are more abrupt.

So what should you look for in terms of vascular dementia? There are two ways that symptoms of vascular dementia can appear: sudden and severe or mild and gradual.
Here are some possible symptoms:

  • Hallucinations
  • Unusual changes in mood or attitude
  • Slower thinking process
  • General forgetfulness
  • Loss of social skills
  • Confusion
  • Walking with rapid, shuffling steps
  • Weakness in arms or legs
  • Shakiness in hands
  • Dizziness
  • Getting lost in familiar surroundings
  • Laughing or crying at inappropriate times
  • Difficulty finding the right words
  • Inability to follow directions
  • Inability to plan or organize

Although many of the symptoms between the various types of dementias may seem similar, it’s important to take note that Vascular dementia is diagnosed when an individual has had strokes or mini-strokes.

The most important thing you can do to prevent vascular dementia is to reduce the risk of strokes. Some ways to do this are: control blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and cholesterol with assistance from a doctor; reduce salt and saturated fats in your diet; stay physically active; cut or limit alcohol consumption; check blood pressure regularly; keep healthy weight and quit smoking.

When you are starting to notice memory changes, early detection is key. Senior Services offers an array of memory support programs including confidential memory screenings to obtain a cognitive baseline, early memory loss programs, and educational classes along with support from Seasons Adult Day Health Services. If you or someone you know is experiencing increasing changes with their memory and could benefit from additional services, please contact Amy Sheridan, Family Support and Activity Manager, at 989-633-3764.

Check out our section, Our Mind Matters, next month as we discuss Lewy Body Dementia.

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