Vascular Dementia: the blacker sheep of the dementia family

_Gold Squad, February 2022

Dementia is a general term for mental decline — unlike Alzheimer’s, which is a disease in and of itself. Specifically, dementia is a grouping of symptoms associated with a decline in memory, reasoning or other thinking skills.

And while many people are at least passingly familiar with dementia and Alzheimer’s, understanding vascular dementia is less mainstream. 

Vascular dementia rears its dark head when the brain is damaged due to a problem with blood supply to the brain — sharing the same risk factors as heart attack and stroke.

Vascular dementia symptoms vary, depending on the part of your brain where blood flow is impaired. Symptoms often overlap with those of other types of dementia, especially Alzheimer’s disease dementia. But unlike Alzheimer’s disease, the most significant symptoms of vascular dementia tend to involve speed of thinking and problem-solving rather than memory loss.

Vascular dementia signs and symptoms include:

  • Confusion
  • Trouble paying attention and concentrating
  • Reduced ability to organize thoughts or actions
  • Decline in ability to analyze a situation, develop an effective plan and communicate that plan to others
  • Slowed thinking
  • Difficulty with organization
  • Difficulty deciding what to do next
  • Problems with memory
  • Restlessness and agitation
  • Unsteady gait
  • Sudden or frequent urge to urinate or inability to control passing urine
  • Depression or apathy

Vascular dementia symptoms may be most clear-cut when they occur suddenly following a stroke. When changes in your thinking and reasoning seem clearly linked to a stroke, this condition is sometimes called post-stroke dementia.

Because of vascular dementia’s association with stroke, it is typically observed to happen relatively rapidly and noticeably, with characteristic patterns of symptoms following a series of strokes or ministrokes. 

Even more frustratingly, vascular dementia can also develop very gradually, just like Alzheimer’s disease dementia. What’s more, vascular disease and Alzheimer’s disease often occur together.