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Vascular dementia facts for kids

Kids Encyclopedia Facts

Vascular dementia is the second most common form of dementia after Alzheimer's disease. It is a type of dementia caused by problems in the supply of blood to the brain.

Brain cells need a good supply of blood to stay healthy and function properly. The blood is delivered through a network of blood vessels called the vascular system. If the vascular system within the brain becomes damaged and blood cannot reach the brain cells, the cells will eventually die. This can lead to the onset of vascular dementia.

Signs and symptoms

Differentiating dementia syndromes can be challenging, due to the frequently overlapping clinical features and related underlying pathology. In particular, Alzheimer's disease often co-occurs with vascular dementia.

People with vascular dementia present with progressive cognitive impairment, acutely or sub-acutely as in mild cognitive impairment, frequently step-wise, after multiple cerebrovascular events (strokes). Some people may appear to improve between events and decline after further silent strokes. A rapidly deteriorating condition may lead to death from a stroke, heart disease, or infection.

The disease is described as both a mental disorder and behavioural disorder within the International Classification of Diseases. Signs and symptoms are cognitive, motor, behavioral, and for a significant proportion of patients, also affective. These changes typically occur over a period of 5–10 years. Signs are typically the same as in other dementias, but mainly include cognitive decline and memory impairment of sufficient severity as to interfere with activities of daily living, sometimes with presence of focal neurologic signs, and evidence of features consistent with cerebrovascular disease on brain imaging (CT or MRI). The neurologic signs localizing to certain areas of the brain that can be observed are hemiparesis, bradykinesia, hyperreflexia, extensor plantar reflexes, ataxia, pseudobulbar palsy, as well as gait problems and swallowing difficulties. People have patchy deficits in terms of cognitive testing. They tend to have better free recall and fewer recall intrusions when compared with patients with Alzheimer's disease. In the more severely affected patients, or patients affected by infarcts in Wernicke's or Broca's areas, specific problems with speaking called dysarthria and aphasias may be present.

In small vessel disease, the frontal lobes are often affected. Consequently, patients with vascular dementia tend to perform worse than their Alzheimer's disease counterparts in frontal lobe tasks, such as verbal fluency, and may present with frontal lobe problems: apathy, abulia (lack of will or initiative), problems with attention, orientation, and urinary incontinence. They tend to exhibit more perseverative behavior. VaD patients may also present with general slowing of processing ability, difficulty shifting sets, and impairment in abstract thinking. Apathy early in the disease is more suggestive of vascular dementia.

Rare genetic disorders that cause vascular lesions in the brain have other presentation patterns. As a rule, they tend to occur earlier in life and have a more aggressive course. In addition, infectious disorders, such as syphilis, can cause arterial damage, strokes, and bacterial inflammation of the brain.

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Demencia vascular para niños

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