What is vascular dementia?

You might not have heard of vascular dementia until you – or someone you know – was diagnosed with it, but it is the second most common form of dementia. Here’s the essential information you need to know

In a nutshell

Vascular dementia is caused by problems with the supply of oxygen to the brain. People who have vascular dementia will usually have suffered a series of small strokes, (known as ‘mini strokes’) often so small they’re hardly noticeable. The strokes cause damage in the brain which results in dementia

Three facts worth knowing

1. Around 20 per cent of people with dementia have vascular dementia, it’s the second most common form. Some people have both Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia, called ‘mixed dementia‘.

2. Vascular dementia is also known as multi-infarct dementia (MID) or vascular cognitive impairment (VCI).

3. Whilst Alzheimer’s progresses slowly, vascular dementia stages move faster. Someone with condition often declines suddenly as the person has a new stroke. As they recover from the stroke, they may improve slightly and/or remain stable for quite a while. The gaps between strokes vary from weeks to months or even longer.


What actually happens

The mini strokes cause tiny but widespread damage to the brain. At first, people with vascular dementia may have difficulty thinking clearly, planning or remembering seemingly familiar words. But symptoms vary widely, depending on which part of the brain has been affected by the stroke. Sometimes memory loss is slight, whilst trouble understanding speech or ‘finding the right words’ is more apparent. However, the more strokes a person has, the worse their symptoms may become.

Could this be you (or someone you know)?

Vascular dementia is age related – it’s rare in anyone aged under 65 and commonly affects those between 65- 75 (more men seem to develop it than women). It’s also more common amongst those of Asian, Black and Caribbean ethnicity. You also have a higher risk of developing vascular dementia if you have:

– Diabetes
– Heart disease
– Sleep apnoea
– Cardiovascular disease (this includes high blood pressure, high cholesterol and being overweight)
– Or if you’ve already had a stroke


Here’s the science

Vascular dementia is caused by reduced blood flow to the brain, which is usually the result of a stroke. When blood supply to the brain is interrupted, brain cells are deprived of vital oxygen and nutrients causing damage to the cortex of the brain (the area associated with memory, language and learning).

Vascular dementia affects the system of blood vessels in the brain (Fotolia)
Vascular dementia affects the system of blood vessels in the brain (Fotolia)

Good to know

A new drug treatment is being developed for vascular dementia and research so far is promising. The drug Cerebrolysin is made from pigs brains and was shown in trials to improve concentration, memory and mood among people with the condition. The drug isn’t licensed in the UK yet but larger trials are now underway.