How Does Vascular Dementia Differ from Alzheimer's?

by Christine Kennard Health Professional

Vascular dementia (VaD) is the second most common type of dementia after Alzheimer's and is responsible for up to 25% of all dementias. VaD, previously known as multi infarct dementia, like Alzheimer's, is caused by brain damage. The crucial difference is that in VaD the damage is due to strokes. Between 500,000 and 700,000 Americans have a stroke each year. Scientists believe that after
three months approximately 25% to 30% (125,000 people) will develop dementia.

Strokes can affect the cortical and sub-cortical areas of brain tissue, so symptoms tend to vary depending on the stroke location. However, because the brain and its nerve pathways are so complex, this is not always so. This also means that some mental abilities may not be as reduced as in Alzheimer's disease.

Risk Factors for Vascular Dementia

Risk factors for VaD include people who are more susceptible to cardiovascular disease. For example, people with diabetes, a history of arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), high blood pressure, smokers, and people who have cardiac arrhythmias (abnormal electrical activity in the heart).

Age of Onset of Vascular Dementia

The age range for getting Alzheimer's is similar to VaD. Cardiovascular disease is tied to stroke. As a result, the rate of vascular dementia increases 200 fold from the age of 60 to 90 years of age. Because VaD does not exclude you getting Alzheimer's disease, there is a certain amount of overlap in these statistics.

Symptoms & Diagnosis of Vascular Dementia

Onset of VaD can be gradual or sudden depending on the cause. A number of mini strokes will lead to gradual symptoms, but a stroke will produce sudden symptoms immediately. Early signs and symptoms of vascular dementia are similar to those of Alzheimer's disease.

Although symptoms can be similar to Alzheimer's there
are often associated neurological problems where one-half of a patient's body is paralyzed or weakened (hemiplegia or paresis), Parkinson's type symptoms.

Doctors can often tell where the damage from the stroke/strokes occurred by symptoms and by neuroimaging tests (MRI or CT scans etc). Diagnosis will also be helped by evidence of cardiovascular disease.

Treatments for Vascular Dementia

Treatment for VaD is to reduce the possibility of stroke so that no further brain damage can occur. This is done by :

for Vascular Dementia

Preventative health measures and improved treatments for cardiovascular disease and strokes mean that, unlike Alzheimer's disease, the rates of vascular dementia are actually decreasing.

It is important to seek emergency treatment for a stroke to prevent brain damage and dementia.

Other major forms of VaD of the so called subcortical type are;

*Binswanger disease
, a slow progressive type of vascular dementia associated with chronic high blood pressure.

*Cerebral autosomal dominant arteriopathy with subcortical infarcts and leukoencephalopathy (CADASIL) a genetic disorder affecting chromosome 19, it is a slow progressive dementia affecting adults in their middle 40s.

*Cerebral amyloid angiopathy (CAA).

More Information About How Alzheimer's Differs from Other Types of Dementia

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Christine Kennard
Meet Our Writer
Christine Kennard

Christine Kennard wrote about Alzheimer's for HealthCentral. She has many years of experience in private and public sector nursing care homes for people with dementia. She has worked in a variety of hospital, public and private health settings and specialized in community nursing. Christine is qualified in group analytic psychotherapy, is registered in general and mental health nursing and has a Masters degree.