Cerebrovasular disease is a term often used to describe 'hardening of the arteries' in the brain. It is thought that this results in poor circulation of blood to parts of the brain and a deterioration in mental abilities. Unlike in cases of Alzheimer's Disease, sufferers from vascular dementia may experience damage to only distinct parts of the brain, rather than impairment of all functions. Also, unlike Alzheimer's, the root causes of vascular dementia are far more clearly understood.
The most common cause of an onset of the syndrome is a stroke. A number of factors, mostly lifestyle-related, contribute to the likelihood of any individual suffering from a stroke. Raised blood pressure (hypertension), dietary factors, raised cholesterol levels, cigarette smoking and excesive alcohol consumption can increase an individuals vulnerability to a stroke.
A stroke usually takes place when a blood clot forms and the brain suffers a loss of its oxygen supply. This results in the irreversible destruction of parts of the brain. A stroke may cause the sudden loss of speech, paralysis or numbness and co-ordination problems.
Some patients who have suffered a stroke go on to develop memory impairment which can progress to vascular dementia.
Vascular dementia is more common in some countries than others. In the U.K it is thought to account for about 25 per cent of all dementia cases. As well as only affecting certain parts of the brain, vascular dementia differs from Alzheimer's in a number of other key ways.
Sufferers from vascular dementia may show a much more gradual decline than those with Alzheimer's. This can include extended "plateau" periods where no deterioration occurs. There is a tendency for vascular dementia sufferers to retain a greater degree of self-awareness. This can induce periods of depression as the patient becomes aware of their own deterioration.
Despite the similarities in some of the symptoms, it is vital that the correct form of dementia is diagnosed. This is due to the vastly differing treatments available for the two syndromes. Physicians try to identify and modify risk factors such as blood pressure, smoking, alcohol, cholesterol and fat levels with the aim of preventing further strokes therefore preventing the development of vascular dementia.