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The Many Faces of Dementia

While most of us think of Alzheimer’s disease when we think of dementia, the second-most common dementia is Vascular Dementia. (Alzheimer’s is obviously first on the list, representing about 70 percent of all dementia — currently about 5.1 million people in the U.S. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, vascular dementia represents about 20 percent of the dementias. Recognize that it is extremely difficult to provide accurate numbers because of diagnosis and a host of other issues such as having a diagnosis of two or more dementias.

A dementia may be defined as a significant impairment of two or more neurological functions without losing consciousness. Dementia also infers a subtle, progressive decline in memory and cognitive functioning. Vascular dementia results when there is damage to a person’s blood vessels in the brain. This damage frequently results in a reduction of oxygen and nutrients to the brain. Damage to the arteries can be caused by conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, lupus, multi-infarct dementia from mini-strokes — trans-ischemic attacks and even a significant fall causing head trauma. It should be pointed out that not all strokes cause vascular dementia. People who have had a heart attack or atherosclerosis have a higher risk of developing vascular dementia.



Symptoms

Below are typical symptoms, but clearly vascular dementia effects different people in different ways. In other words, these three categories are generalizations. If you feel that you or your loved one have any or some of these symptoms, you should seek the advice of a health care professional.




Mental and emotional symptoms: Slowed thinking; Memory problems, general forgetfulness; Unusual mood changes (e.g., depression, irritability), Hallucinations and/or delusions; Confusion, which may get worse at night; Personality changes and loss of social skills.

Physical Symptoms: Dizziness; Leg or arm weakness; Tremors; Moving with rapid, shuffling steps; Balance problems; Loss of bladder or bowel control.

Behavioral Symptoms: Slurred speech; Language problems such as difficulty finding the right words for things; Getting lost in familiar surroundings; Laughing or crying inappropriately; Difficulty planning, organizing, or following instructions; Difficulty doing things that used to come easily (e.g., paying bills or playing a favorite card game); Reduced ability to function in daily life.

Cures

Sadly, like other dementias, there is no current cure for vascular dementia. Certain drugs may be able to slow down the progression but may have significant side effects. But the good news is that making certain lifestyle changes and using practical health strategies may help prevent strokes. On the brighter side, Alzheimer’s disease is reaching significant proportions both in the U.S. and worldwide to command a lot of attention. Quantum leaps are being made in research. New technologies are being applied to discover and conquer Alzheimer’s and along with it provide more knowledge of the brain and other dementias and, hopefully someday, a cure.

Tor Eckert has owned and operated an Alzheimer’s care home, become an advocate on Dementia Care with various organizations and was designated as a Healthcare Professional by the Alzheimer’s Foundation. He can be contacted at TorEckert@sbcglobal.net or cell phone 530-277-0879.


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