Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine

Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine

About Dementia

Vascular Dementia (VaD)

Overview

Vascular Dementia (VaD) is the term for significant change in cognition (memory and thinking) and behavior from damage to the brain from vascular disease – problems with the bloodflow to the brain. It is one of the most common forms of dementia.

Symptoms

The signs and symptoms of VaD vary depending on where the brain is damaged. A common pattern is when narrowing and stiffening of the smallest vessels in the brain cause damage to the deep parts of the brain. This can lead to difficulty with attention and concentration, loss of motivation and interest, shuffling gait, crying or laughing that seems to come out of the blue (called pseudobulbar affect).

Progression

Classically, VaD gets worse over time in a “stepwise” manner, meaning distinct periods where the symptoms get suddenly worse. However, this is not always the case.

Diagnosis and Treatment

How it’s diagnosed

Vascular dementia is diagnosed based on the signs and symptoms above by a qualified doctor, as well as brain imaging such as an MRI or CT scan.

Medications

Treatment of vascular dementia should focus on two things: the underlying cause, and the symptoms. Since VaD is caused by unhealthy blood vessels, treating blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol and other general health maintenance (such as not smoking, staying active, taking an aspirin as directed) are important for slowing or stopping the progression of VaD. Alzheimer’s medications such as donepezil may help as well, as can treatment of mood.

This page last updated Jun 15, 2012

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