vascular dementia
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Vascular Dementia – A guide explaining all you need to know

When you or a loved one is diagnosed with or suspected of having vascular dementia it can be a difficult time.   Therefore we have produced this article to help you identify the key things you should know.

Other people that have read our guide have positively fed back to us how useful they have found it.   The impact of our guide has been that they have been far more aware of what to expect and to start planning for the future.

In the article we will give you some actionable advice on things like:

  • what is vascular dementia
  • the reasons as to what causes vascular dementia
  • how it can affect someone
  • what symptoms to look out for
  • what treatments may exist

A brief background

Dementia, including vascular dementia, is rapidly becoming one of the most talked-about conditions affecting the UK population in later life.

It’s estimated that by 2025, there will one million people nationwide living with the condition. This prevalence has led to many families searching for information and ways to help loved ones facing a diagnosis.

Although Dementia predominantly affects people over the age of 65, around 40,000 living with the condition in the UK are younger. Another common misconception regarding Dementia is that it is a singular illness or disease.

The term in fact represents a combination of symptoms and conditions. These include memory loss, confusion, difficulty speaking and loss of cognitive function.

Vascular Dementia is one particular form of Dementia. It can be present alone, or with a combination of other conditions. Of the 850,000 people living with Dementia in the UK around 150,000 have Vascular Dementia.

At UK Care Guide we are committed to providing clear, comprehensive information for individuals considering care and their families.

On this site you’ll find a range of articles covering common issues and conditions affecting people accessing care for a variety of reasons. In this article we explain what Vascular Dementia is, how it affects someone, and how you can support yourself or your loved one.

What is Vascular Dementia?

Vascular Dementia is a condition caused by a lack of sufficient oxygen and nutrients to the brain, causing the cells within the brain to eventually die.

The blood vessels that carry blood to the brain become diseased – they are often weakened and leak, or can become blocked, decreasing their effectiveness in delivering vital oxygen and nutrients to the brain.

Of the various identifiable types of dementia,Vascular Dementia is the second most common form, with approximately 150,000 people having it in the UK.

Here is a video from the Alzheimer’s society which explains a little more about vascular dementia.

What causes Vascular Dementia?

There are two primary reasons why the condition may develop.

Reason 1

The most common cause is the degeneration of tiny blood vessels deep within the brain. This is called Subcortical Dementia.  These tiny bloody vessels can thicken, which in turn reduces the blood supply to those cells, causing them to degenerate and eventually die.

The nerve fibres around the affected blood vessels are also harmed, reducing their effectiveness. This disease of the tiny bloody vessels can also affect other areas of the brain, including the base.

If blood vessels are blocked here it could cause small tears. This is also known as an ischaemic stroke.

Reason 2

The second most common cause ofVascular Dementia is complication following a stroke. Strokes occur when the blood supply to the brain is suddenly cut off. This can be as a result of a blood clot (an ischaemic stroke) or less commonly, where a blood vessel ruptures and bleeds into the brain (a haemorrhagic stroke).

Around 1 in 5 people who suffer a stroke will go on to develop Dementia on top of the side effects of the stroke itself. Most people who have suffered a stroke will have another and therefore the risk of developing Dementia increases with each stroke event, as more of the brain becomes damaged.

Although some studies have been conducted regarding general origins and lifestyle-related causes behind Dementia, these are widely unsubstantiated and disregarded pending further research.

Medically it is assumed that Dementia is indiscriminate – therefore it can typically affect anyone regardless of his or her habits, lifestyle or general health. Despite this two thirds of people with Dementia are women.

How can Vascular Dementia affect someone?

The symptoms of Vascular Dementia can vary from person to person. The way in which the condition affects someone is often dictated by the root cause of the Dementia, whether it be as a result of vascular disease, or following a stroke.

The speed in which the symptoms can take hold can also vary. For example, the damage following a stroke is often instantaneous, whereas the effects of vascular disease can develop over time.

Vascular Dementia symptoms

Early vascular dementia symptoms and effects can include:

  • Problems concentrating on tasks – this could be shown in activities such as planning, making decisions or problem solving. A person with Vascular Dementia may also struggle to follow instructions, and their thought process may be slower.
  • Mild memory loss.
  • Articulation – Individuals with Vascular Dementia often experience problems with articulating what they want to say. Their speech may become less fluent as they concentrate on finding the words.
  • Easily frustrated, irritability – this is often a result of the issues highlighted above.
  • Depression and sudden changes in mood are common –  The depression is often as a result of the individual becoming aware of the cognitive effects (listed above).
  • Weak bladder can be an issue – often this is associated with those with subcortical Vascular Dementia. It can be accompanied by a weakness on one particular side of their body.
  • Dizziness or tremors.

As the disease progresses (stroke-related Vascular Dementia often will become worse following each new stroke episode; whereas subcortical Vascular Dementia will worsen gradually), long term vascular dementia symptoms and effects include:

  • Severe confusion and memory loss – day to day tasks become harder and individuals are likely to need support on a daily basis.
  • Problems with communication and comprehension.
  • Changes to their personality and behaviour – they can become aggressive, irritable and easily agitated.
  • They may begin to suffer delusions and hallucinations.

Overall, there are a number of vascular dementia symptoms that you should be keep an eye out for.  This will help ensure you spot the signs early on. Another early sing is when someone forgets the time or day.  This is why a dementia or alzheimers clock can be really helpful.  You can read our guide on dementia clocks here. 

lewy body dementia

What treatments are available for Vascular Dementia?

Sadly the brain damage caused by Vascular Dementia cannot be treated to stop the degeneration, nor can it be reversed. However, with careful and managed support an individual with Vascular Dementia can continue to live well.

Can individuals with Vascular Dementia still live a full and happy life?

Naturally a diagnosis of Vascular Dementia is devastating – and the degenerative nature of the condition can cause concern and anxiety.

However a common myth regarding Dementia is that it is impossible to lead a healthy life because of the symptoms it produces. It’s true that things will change – but the diagnosis shouldn’t prevent a person from continuing to enjoy their life and do the things they like to do.

Although there is no cure for Vascular Dementia or any reversal for the damage it causes to the brain, there are ways to alleviate the symptoms it brings and maintain a good quality of life. Popular activities such as singing, gardening, cookery and reading have all been shown to improve brain function and wellbeing and support people with Dementia.

Socialising regularly and frequent physical activity (such as walking, or dancing) are also great options. Day to day keeping a simple routine, eating well and investing in gadgets such as a large clock displaying the date and time are all ways to make life with Vascular Dementia a little easier.

I think my relative has Vascular Dementia. What should I do?

If you are concerned that you or a relative may have Vascular Dementia, it’s important to act quickly and decisively to obtain a diagnosis. Try not to worry too much until you have investigated further.

It’s also important to note that simple memory loss is not always an indication of the early stages of Dementia – however it’s always worth getting checked out just in case. Early intervention for Dementia is important, which is why it’s crucial to recognise common symptoms and causes and react accordingly.

If you feel you are experiencing symptoms similar to those caused by Vascular Dementia, or have been approached by family and friends about the matter, firstly speak to your GP and explain how you are feeling.

Make sure that you are taken seriously and have further tests conducted to rule out the possibility of Vascular Dementia. You might like to take someone with you for support, or write down everything you want to discuss so that you don’t forget anything.

If you are concerned about a family member or friend, you should approach the subject sensitively. Explain that you have noticed a couple of symptoms that worry you, and would feel better if they were to have them checked by a doctor.

Vascular Dementia can cause individuals to feel defensive and irritable – they may also be unaware of the severity of the symptoms they are displaying.

Do you have a Lasting Power of Attorney set up?

The most important thing about creating a lasting power of attorney is that it is addressed sooner rather than later, especially if you or a loved one are elderly or have been diagnosed with dementia or other mental illness. This is because Lasting Power of Attorney, or LPA, can only be applied for if your relative is deemed to have the mental capacity.

You can read more about Lasting Power of Attorney here. 

Here is also a short video we have produced that tells you all the key information you need about setting up a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA).

If you already have Lasting Power of Attorney in place you may be able to discuss your relative’s welfare with their GP on their behalf. If you do not have one set up, you can find a directory of specialists that can help you by clicking here.  

Lasting power of attorney professionals

Caring for someone with Vascular Dementia

Caring for a loved one with Vascular Dementia can be difficult, but these simple tips can help you support your loved one and give them some much-needed structure when they need it:

  • Establish a routine. This will help your relative to feel less agitated.
  • Keep them occupied. It is important to help keep their mind and body active (where possible), whether it be a short walk, social activities or something as simple as tending to plants. This helps add structure to their day to day lives, as well as providing a sense of purpose.
  • Don’t be afraid to communicate with your loved one – though they may struggle to comprehend you, it is important they do not feel isolated and a smile or arm around the shoulder can help you both feel comfortable.

It’s also important to make sure that you are looking after yourself. Caring for someone with Vascular Dementia can be incredibly tiring and puts a strain on your emotional and physical wellbeing.

Ask for help if you need to – and gather resources and details of support groups and organisations you can access. Emotionally you may need to have counselling or talk to someone who understands what you are going through.

There are charitable organisations and groups up and down the country that provide space for carers (some specifically catering to Dementia) to share, discuss and support one another. Respite care can also be a good option, especially as the condition progresses.

You may find our book, 51 tips to Live Well with Dementia helpful when looking for tips on how to care for someone with dementia

Locating specialist care provision for Vascular Dementia

In the earlier stages of the disease it’s possible for symptoms to be managed with help from friends and family, or even independently.

However it’s unfortunately true that at some point you will need to have a conversation about care provision. Individuals with Vascular Dementia often require specialist care – especially as the condition progresses.

Even if you or your relative don’t yet require care, it’s important to consider it now, as putting plans in place can save distress and anxiety later on.

Home care – Investigating this option

You may access low-level care now (such as companionship twice a week) via a home care / domiciliary care agency – but eventually you may need to consider residential care or sheltered accommodation. As Vascular Dementia can progress at varying paces, it’s important to have a flexible plan in place.

For instance, home care once a week may be in place currently – but you should have the option to increase the frequency of the care at any point, or review the care plan and look into a different type of care if required. If you need extra support or need professional advice, your GP, specialist or social worker may be able to help.

Care homes – are they the right option?

Would you or your relative prefer to stay at home, or would you feel safer in a residential establishment?

Personal and financial factors affect the type of care you choose – but whether you decide to access care at home or in a specialist centre it’s important to choose a place with specific expertise and experience relating to Vascular Dementia. Then make a shortlist of care providers.

You should visit care homes in person (preferably unannounced) to gain an accurate impression of the services they provide. Agencies should come out to meet you and your relative to talk you through the options and get to know you better.

Here’s our video on how to choose a care home.

care home

 

You can find more resources and articles relating to care here on the UK Care Guide website.

As well as taking on the care yourself, there are many different types of external support available, and family and friends of those with the condition are encouraged to explore these options. UK Care Guide was founded to offer honest and reliable support for anyone needing care for themselves or a relative – and our website contains a wealth of information about ongoing care, the costs of care (including our handy Care Cost Calculator) and your options for care for your loved one.


More information on other types of dementia

Click the boxes below to access more information on the different types of dementia.  We provide guidance on spotting the symptoms and what you can do to help yourself or a loved one.

5 ways of spotting signs of abuse in people with dementia

Dementia and how to manage your finances

5 ways to spot if someone with dementia is struggling with their hygiene

Frontotemporal Dementia

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