Vascular dementia is a type of dementia that happens in response to interrupted blood flow to the brain, which can occur during a stroke. Symptoms may include memory loss, confusion, and difficulties with motor skills.

A stroke is a serious medical condition involving a reduction in blood supply to part of the brain.

There are two types of stroke. Ischemic strokes result from a blockage within an artery in the brain, and hemorrhagic strokes result from a ruptured blood vessel in the brain. Both types have the potential to cause vascular dementia.

This article outlines the factors that can increase the risk of stroke and vascular dementia.

It also discusses the symptoms of stroke and vascular dementia and describes how doctors diagnose, treat, and help prevent these diseases.

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 10% of vascular dementia cases are the result of a stroke.

A 2015 study investigated the prevalence of cognitive impairment following stroke. Of the 50 participants, 30% developed dementia. Of those who did not develop dementia, 42% developed some form of cognitive impairment.

However, a person does not always experience dementia following a stroke. According to a 2017 review, possible risk factors for developing post-stroke dementia include:

  • Atrial fibrillation (AF): This heart condition causes an irregular or unusually fast heart rhythm. A 2019 study agrees that AF increases a person’s risk of developing poststroke dementia, possibly due to an association between having AF and having compromised blood vessels in the brain.
  • Previous stroke: A person who has previously experienced a stroke may already have impaired cognitive function. Another stroke may cause a further decline in cognitive function, possibly resulting in dementia.
  • Heart attack: A person who has survived a heart attack may be at risk of developing issues with the blood vessels in their brain. Such issues increase the risk of strokes and dementia.
  • High blood pressure: Hypertension increases the risk of blood clots and ischemic stroke. High blood pressure also damages the tiny blood vessels deep inside the brain, increasing the risk of hemorrhagic stroke. Both types of stroke increase the risk of vascular dementia.
  • Diabetes: This condition can impair the function of small blood vessels, thereby increasing the risk of stroke.
  • Previous transient ischemic attack (TIA): A TIA is a type of “ministroke” that causes symptoms similar to those of a stroke. However, TIA symptoms tend to last only a few minutes and do not usually cause lasting damage.

According to the American Stroke Association (ASA), vascular dementia is also more common among people who have a stroke on the left side of their brain.

Learn more about stroke.

According to the ASA, symptoms of vascular dementia include:

  • memory loss
  • confusion
  • vision problems
  • difficulties with the following:
    • motor skills
    • language comprehension
    • concentration
    • planning and organization
    • decision-making
    • problem-solving
    • calculation

Vascular dementia is one of several types of dementia. It is the only type of dementia that occurs due to reduced blood supply to the brain.

Other types of dementia typically occur as a result of a buildup of certain proteins within the brain. Over time, these proteins damage and destroy brain cells, leading to impairments in cognitive and neurological functioning.

The type of protein that accumulates in the brain determines the type of dementia a person has. Examples include:

According to the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS), a person may also experience “mixed dementia,” which is a combination of AD and vascular dementia.

If a person thinks they or someone they know has dementia, they should contact a healthcare professional as soon as possible.

When making a diagnosis, a doctor will ask about a person’s symptoms and their medical and family history. They may perform tests to assess the person’s cognitive abilities and neurological functions.

According to the CDC, if a doctor suspects dementia, they may also order blood tests and brain imaging scans to confirm the diagnosis and determine the underlying cause.

There is currently no cure for dementia. However, treatments can help alleviate some of the symptoms and may slow down the decline in cognitive functioning.

Doctors may also address the underlying cause of a person’s dementia. For example, doctors may prescribe medication to help with the following:

Doctors may sometimes prescribe medications off-label that are for other types of dementia.

The ASA also provides the following tips that may help a person manage their dementia:

  • Managing memory issues, such as:
    • creating lists
    • making notes
    • sticking to a daily routine
  • Improving cognitive functioning, such as:
    • playing card games
    • completing puzzles and crosswords
    • using computer programs
  • Managing risk factors, which may include:
    • taking any necessary medications
    • following recommended lifestyle changes
  • Receiving support from specialists, such as:
    • a physical therapist who can help with motor skills
    • a speech and language therapist who can help with speech and language comprehension
    • a mental health professional who can help a person manage any symptoms of depression

An individual may also want to consider local dementia support groups.

According to the CDC, up to 40% of dementia cases may be prevented or delayed. The following factors can help prevent stroke and dementia:

A person can use the FAST acronym to remember stroke symptoms. FAST stands for:

  • Face: Is one side of the face drooping and numb? If the person tries to smile, is the smile uneven?
  • Arms: Does one arm appear to be weak and numb? If the person tries to raise both arms, does one droop downward?
  • Speech: Is the person slurring their speech?
  • Time: If a person is displaying one or more of the above symptoms, it is important to call 911 immediately to seek emergency medical attention.

Other possible signs of stroke that people should check for include:

  • a sudden and severe headache
  • sudden difficulties with vision in one or both eyes
  • sudden numbness or weakness, especially on one side of the body or face
  • sudden difficulty walking, balancing, or coordinating movements
  • sudden difficulty speaking or understanding speech
  • sudden confusion

Dementia is not curable. Once a person has dementia, the condition will worsen over time.

With vascular dementia, the disease progress in a stepwise manner, meaning that the symptoms will suddenly worsen in response to additional strokes or ministrokes.

Therefore, it is important for a person to follow their doctor’s advice regarding preventing further strokes. This may mean taking certain medications and implementing certain lifestyle changes.

The amount of time a person can live with vascular dementia varies. A person should talk with a doctor about their individual diagnosis and outlook.

Strokes can be ischemic or hemorrhagic, and both types have the potential to cause vascular dementia. This type of dementia occurs due to reduced blood flow to the brain.

Vascular dementia can cause symptoms such as difficulties with memory, language comprehension, and motor skills.

Anyone who experiences symptoms of dementia should consult a doctor for a diagnosis, particularly if they have an underlying condition that increases their risk of stroke.

Vascular dementia typically worsens suddenly in response to additional strokes or ministrokes.

As such, treatment not only involves alleviating the symptoms of vascular dementia but also targeting and managing the underlying cause of strokes.