Understanding the stages of vascular dementia might help you recognize the gradual onset of symptoms in the early stages. In many cases, if you aware of the symptoms, you'll be able to help yourself or a loved one maintain a normal life for a little bit longer.
The term vascular means "relating to the blood vessels of the body." Vascular dementia is dementia caused by reduced blood flow to the brain, such as occurs during a stroke. In some cases, people who suffer mini strokes (also known as silent strokes) don't realize they've even had a stroke, but they still experience a loss of blood flow to the brain. This results in damage that can produce symptoms such as:
- Difficulty with language
- Disorientation regarding time or place
- Loss of initiative
- Misplacing things (such as putting eyeglasses in the dishwasher)
- Mood swings or personality changes
- Recent memory loss
- Trouble with abstract thinking
- Trouble performing familiar tasks
Vascular dementia is the second most common form of dementia, with only Alzheimer's occurring more often. Vascular dementia presents a difficult challenge for the people suffering from it, as well as for people who become their caretakers. If vascular dementia is caught in the early stages, it is sometimes possible to make lifestyle changes to help avoid further damage. There are also steps that can be taken to help compensate for the symptoms already manifesting themselves.
Stages of Vascular Dementia
After a stroke, vascular dementia may progress slowly or, if another stroke or heart attack occurs, rapid deterioration of cognitive capabilities or motor functions may result.
In the early period of vascular dementia, symptoms may manifest themselves gradually over time. People who experience these symptoms are often aware of them although they most often don't know the cause. These symptoms include:
- Difficulty walking
- Problems following a conversation
- Problems performing familiar tasks or activities
- Short-term memory loss
- Inability to concentrate
To help a person through these early stages of vascular dementia, sometimes creating a system of reminders can help them lead a fairly normal lifestyle. For some, this may be as simple as creating an easy-to-follow checklist of things that need to be done each day.
When vascular dementia reaches the later stages, the person who has it will need to be supervised more and more; as mental capacity diminishes, the person may become a danger to themselves or others. Later stage symptoms for vascular dementia include:
- Tendency to become agitated or violent
Along with these mental changes, a person in the later stages of vascular dementia may also become incontinent and immobile and thus require more specialized care and will most likely need to be placed in a nursing home facility.
Little Ways You Can Help
While there is no cure for dementia, small steps can be taken in the early stages to help reduce frustration and confusion.
One of the main reasons for confusion is losing track of the time of day. To help alleviate the confusion resulting from this, put a clock in every room where the person spends time and keep the blinds open so they can see outdoors. The sunlight helps them understand it is daytime, and the darkness alerts them to the fact that it is night.
Another thing that adds to confusion and disorientation is taking too many naps. While napping may feel good or even needed, when the person wakes up there is an increased chance for confusion as to time of day. Instead of napping, go for a short walk together. Not only does this help keep the person grounded as to the correct time of day, but it will also help them sleep better at night. To help avoid times of confusion at night, adding a nightlight can help. This way, if the person does wake up, they won't be in total darkness, which can add to their confusion.
Be sure to thoroughly discuss the symptoms and eventualities of vascular dementia with your healthcare provider. He or she can best diagnose the specific difficulties your loved one is encountering, as well as offering you the information and support that you need in order to best help your loved one.