Vascular dementia

Vascular dementia is the second most common cause of dementia after Alzheimer’s disease.

What is vascular dementia?

The word dementia is used to describe a group of symptoms. These include problems with memory and thinking skills, confusion and mood changes and are severe enough to affect day-to-day life.

Dementia is caused by diseases, the most common being Alzheimer’s. Vascular dementia is the second most common form of dementia, causing up to 20 in every 100 cases. Some people have both vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s disease; this is called mixed dementia.

Age is the biggest risk factor for vascular dementia. Most people with the condition are over the age of 65.

Vascular dementia occurs when blood vessels in the brain are damaged. This reduces blood flow to brain cells, which affects how they work.

Sometimes this blood vessel damage can cause memory and thinking problems that are not severe enough to be considered dementia. This may be called vascular cognitive impairment.

The most common types of dementia are:

  • Stroke-related dementia. A stroke occurs when blood supply to a part of the brain is suddenly cut off. This may cause problems with movement, coordination, speech or sight depending on the part of the brain affected.

If someone has problems with memory and thinking after a stroke, they may be diagnosed with post-stroke dementia. If the problems develop after a number of strokes or mini-strokes (transient ischaemic attacks, or TIAs), it may be described as multi-infarct dementia.

  • Subcortical vascular dementia. This is caused by changes to very small blood vessels in the brain, often referred to as small vessel disease. The person usually does not notice these changes, but they can cause memory and thinking to get worse over time, unlike the sudden change that can happen after a stroke.

Information on these pages aims to give an introduction to vascular dementia. We hope you will find it helpful.

This information was updated in December 2019 and is due for review in December 2021. It does not replace any advice that doctors, pharmacists or nurses may give you. Please contact us if you would like a version with references.

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