Phil Thompson discusses his fears of dementia
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Dementia is an umbrella term for diseases that cause the impaired ability to remember, think or make decisions. Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s Disease and vascular dementia are all types of dementia. Express.co.uk reveals how vascular dementia differs from other kinds of dementia and what the main symptoms of the disease are.
The difference between dementia and vascular dementia
Dementia is not a specific disease, so there isn’t a difference between dementia and vascular dementia.
Vascular dementia is a type of dementia which accounts for around 17 percent of dementia.
In vascular dementia, the general symptoms of dementia – memory loss and difficulties with thinking, problem-solving or language – are caused by brain damage.
On the other hand, Alzheimer’s is thought to be caused by the abnormal build-up of proteins around brain cells, and Huntington’s disease is caused by a faulty gene.
Vascular brain changes can often coexist with changes linked to other dementia, such as Lewy body dementia and Alzheimer’s.
The symptoms are often very similar because the vascular changes play a key role in storing and retrieving information, so vascular dementia may cause memory loss that looks very much like Alzheimer’s disease.
Many experts believe that both vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s are underdiagnosed.
According to the team at the Alzheimer’s Organisation, vascular dementia is caused by the reduced blood supply to the brain due to diseased blood vessels.
The experts explained: “To be healthy and function properly, brain cells need a constant supply of blood to bring oxygen and nutrients.
“Blood is delivered to the brain through a network of vessels called the vascular system.
“If the vascular system within the brain becomes damaged – so that the blood vessels leak or become blocked – then blood cannot reach the brain cells and they will eventually die.
“This death of brain cells can cause problems with memory, thinking or reasoning – together these three elements are known as cognition.
“When these cognitive problems are bad enough to have a significant impact on daily life, this is known as vascular dementia.”
Vascular dementia symptoms
The most common cognitive symptoms in the early stages of vascular dementia are:
- problems with planning or organising, making decisions or solving problems
- difficulties following a series of steps (eg cooking a meal)
- slower speed of thought
- problems concentrating, including short periods of sudden confusion.
- A person in the early stages of vascular dementia may also have difficulties with:
- memory – problems recalling recent events (often mild)
- language – eg speech may become less fluent
- visuospatial skills – problems perceiving objects in three dimensions.
- As well as these cognitive symptoms, it is common for someone with early vascular dementia to experience mood changes, such as apathy, depression or anxiety, according to the Alzheimer’s Organisation, depression is common.
The site explains: “This is partly because people with vascular dementia may be aware of the difficulties the condition is causing.
“A person with vascular dementia may also become generally more emotional.
“They may be prone to rapid mood swings and being unusually tearful or happy.”
Vascular dementia tends to get worse, but the speed and pattern of this decline vary from person to person.
The Alzheimer’s Organisation says stroke-related dementia often progresses in a ‘stepped’ way, with long periods when symptoms are stable and periods when symptoms rapidly get worse.
The site reads: “Over time a person with vascular dementia is likely to develop more severe confusion or disorientation, and further problems with reasoning and communication.
“Memory loss, for example for recent events or names, will also become worse.
“The person is likely to need more support with day-to-day activities such as cooking or cleaning.”
As vascular dementia progresses, many people also develop behaviours that seem unusual or out of character.
The experts explained: “The most common include irritability, agitation, aggressive behaviour and a disturbed sleep pattern. Someone may also act in socially inappropriate ways.
“Occasionally a person with vascular dementia will strongly believe things that are not true (delusions) or – less often – see things that are not really there (hallucinations). These behaviours can be distressing and a challenge for all involved.
“In the later stages of vascular dementia, someone may become much less aware of what is happening around them.
“They may have difficulties walking or eating without help, and become increasingly frail. Eventually, the person will need help with all their daily activities.”
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