Vascular Dementia

Vascular dementia is the second most common cause of dementia.

Vascular dementia can come in various forms. One type is when a person has an obvious stroke, for example when they suddenly lose the ability to speak and are paralyzed on one side of their body. Their cognitive function declines compared to before the stroke, and they can no longer handle their daily activities without assistance. This would be considered vascular dementia, or may also be referred to as post-stroke dementia.

Another form of vascular dementia is more gradual in onset, and can appear similar in some ways to the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.  In this type of vascular dementia, a person develops a slowly progressive white matter disease of the brain, caused by the small brain blood vessels becoming blocked by plaque buildup, due to smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes, for example.  Physical symptoms may also develop, such as problems with balance and a shuffling gait. The course may seem to abruptly get worse at times, due to small strokes occurring as the blood vessel blockages progress. This form of vascular dementia may also be referred to as subcortical dementia or Binswanger Disease.

There is no cure for vascular dementia. The disease is progressive and shortens lifespan.

It is less common for vascular dementia to occur in isolation, and instead it is more likely to have both vascular dementia and another cause of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease. This is called mixed dementia.

A comprehensive evaluation can provide clarity as to whether vascular dementia is contributing to a person’s dementia, which is helpful for guiding treatment options and anticipatory guidance regarding symptoms and disease course. Physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech-language therapy, and or swallow therapy may also be recommended.

References and Resources


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