Vascular dementia: Early signs of the degenerative disease you need to recognise

Vascular dementia is caused by reduced blood flow to the brain which can happen as a result of narrowing of the small blood vessels deep inside the brain or a stroke.

People with high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, an unhealthy diet, lack of exercise, diabetes, and those who smoke are at increased risk of the disease developing.

With these risk factors in mind, it’s important to recognise vascular dementia in its early stages, to receive the best possible treatment.

It can start suddenly or come on slowly over time, but as it progresses it tends to get worse. Alzheimer’s Society says there are four common cognitive symptoms in the early stages of vascular dementia.

Stroke-like symptoms

One of the most recognisable symptoms of vascular dementia is if a person is suffering with stroke-like symptoms.

That can include muscle weakness or temporary paralysis on one side of the body. Most notably, these symptoms require urgent medical attention.

Movement problems

Difficulty walking or a change in the way a person walks can be an indicator something isn’t quite right.

These can include slow, stiff movements – a change in mobility when compared to previous movement.

Thinking problems

Having difficulty with attention, planning and reasoning can also be a warning flag.

If your loved one or friend is taking more time to process information than usual, or having problems with attention, it could be time to seek help.

Difficulty planning and reasoning can also be an indicator something isn’t right.

Mood changes

If your friend or loved one shows signs of depression it can be a signal, when paired with other symptoms, toward dementia.

Becoming less interested in things – apathy – is another sign, and those living with the early signs of dementia may also become more emotional.

But the organisation adds a person in the early stages of vascular dementia may also have difficulties with memory – problems recalling recent events (although this is often mild), language – for example speech may become less fluent, and visuospatial skills – problems perceiving objects in three dimensions.

It further explains: “As well as these cognitive symptoms, it is common for someone with early vascular dementia to experience mood changes, such as apathy, depression or anxiety.

“Depression is common, partly because people with vascular dementia may be aware of the difficulties the condition is causing.

“A person with vascular dementia may also become generally more emotional. They may be prone to rapid mood swings an being unusually tearful or happy.”

Can dementia kill you? Dr Andrew Thornber, chief medical officer at Now Patient explained dementia is a terminal illness that shuts down the brain. 

He said: “The actual death of a person with dementia may be caused by another condition.

“People suffering with dementia are likely to be frail toward the end and find it harder to fight off infections and other physical problems due to the progress of dementia.

“In many cases death may be hastened by an acute illness such as pneumonia, or complications such as loss of brain function or a heart attack.”

So what’s the best way to prevent dementia?

Research is still being conducted into how the disease develops and progresses, but eating a well-balanced and healthy diet, taking regular exercise, keeping alcohol to a minimum, trying to reduce stress and getting enough sleep, have been shown to reduce risks of getting dementia.

Dr Thornber recommends meditation. He said: “Meditation has been shown to reduces the stress hormone cortisol, which has been known to increase the risk of developing dementia.

“Just 10 minutes a day of meditation to clear the mind, have been shown to help slow down the ageing rate of the brain.”


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