Understanding Alzheimer’s VS Vascular DementiaPosted on September 3, 2014 by ElderCare Resources in Alzheimers Care, Blog, Dementia Care, Education
Elder Care: Researching vascular and mixed dementias
By: Karen Kaslow
Unlike Alzheimer’s Disease, which progresses slowly, vascular dementia has a sudden onset. It occurs when the blood flow to the brain is compromised, thus depriving the brain of oxygen. This compromise can result from stroke, in which a clot blocks blood flow, or damage and breakdown of blood vessel walls due to the build-up of plaque. Either way, damage to nerve cells results in symptoms of dementia.
Vascular dementia is more common when multiple strokes affecting both sides of the brain have occurred (multi-infarct dementia), but it can also occur from a single, large stroke.
Another form occurs when “hardening of the arteries” causes thickening and narrowing of the small blood vessels found in brain tissue where there are special cells that help nerves communicate with each other.
Some risk factors for stroke and this type of dementia can be controlled with lifestyle choices and medications, thus lowering your chances of developing either condition. These risk factors include hypertension, diabetes, smoking, atrial fibrillation and high cholesterol.
Researchers studying dementia have found that when looking at autopsy results, in a significant number of cases, the neurodegenerative changes of Alzheimer’s Disease and vascular changes coexisted. This condition is known as mixed dementia.
Because some of the dementia-related changes in the brain are difficult to determine and study while individuals are alive, people experiencing dementia are often diagnosed with only one type. When mixed dementia is present, it is not yet understood how the different types of dementia influence each other, or how to determine which symptoms are attributable to which type of dementia.
It is possible that mixed dementia is actually the most common type of dementia in the elderly, which has important implications for future research.
Published: The Sentinel