Vascular dementia is among the most common types of dementia, along with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia with Lewy bodies.
Since the most common type of dementia is Alzheimer’s, many people are unaware of the conditions that can lead to other types of dementia.
Vascular dementia can occur after blood cells in the brain are damaged, which can occur after a stroke, for example.
Learn what the seven stages of vascular dementia are, the causes, the risk factors, and how to support a loved one who may be experiencing symptoms.
What is Vascular Dementia?
Dementia is a general term for issues with memory, reasoning, planning, and judgment. The causes for dementia vary depending on the symptoms and the underlying condition.
The most common type of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease, followed by vascular dementia.
While experts believe Alzheimer’s is caused by a buildup of abnormal proteins in the brain, vascular dementia is caused by brain damage from impaired blood flow in the brain.
This may occur after a stroke, or from any other condition such as a transient ischemic attack (mini-stroke), that damages blood vessels in the brain and deprives it of oxygen.
As with many other types of dementia, vascular dementia can develop gradually, and the progression of the disease generally falls into seven stages.
What Are the 7 Stages of Vascular Dementia?
The most common way to define the progression of dementia is in three categories: mild, moderate, and severe.
However, the most helpful model has seven specific stages of dementia. This broader scale can help loved ones more accurately identify the signs, symptoms, and level of care needs.
The following are the seven stages of vascular dementia, from normal behavior to very severe decline.
1. Normal Behavior
In the early stages of dementia, your loved one may not have any symptoms, but the changes in the brain that will later cause symptoms are already occurring.
In some types of dementia, including Alzheimer’s, this can mean abnormal proteins are beginning to build.
However, with vascular dementia, this could mean damage to the blood vessels is beginning to form.
2. Mild Changes
Over time, you or your loved one may begin to notice mild confusion or slowed thinking as the changes in the brain begin to outwardly appear.
Mild forgetfulness is common in this stage with many forms of dementia, but vascular dementia’s most common signs include slowed thinking and problem solving.
At this stage, symptoms are often dismissed as normal signs of aging, and these changes are typically mild enough to not interfere with a person’s independence.
3. Mild Decline
At this point, family members and friends may begin to notice changes in the loved one experiencing symptoms.
These symptoms may include:
- Difficulty paying attention or concentrating
- Trouble organizing thoughts
- Trouble making plans and communicating them
- Slowed thinking
- Memory loss
Vascular dementia symptoms can occur suddenly, such as after a stroke or a series of strokes, but this type of dementia also can develop as gradually as other types.
Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia also often occur together.
The mild or middle stage can last for several years before symptoms begin to worsen.
4. Moderate Decline
When your loved one reaches this stage of dementia, their symptoms become more obvious, and new symptoms may also appear.
Safety may become a concern as your loved one struggles with daily tasks such as cooking, cleaning, paying bills, or taking medication, and they may be unable to properly care for themselves.
If your loved one has not yet received a dementia diagnosis, it often will occur at this stage.
5. Moderately Severe Decline
Your loved one often will need an increasing amount of daily living assistance at this stage, including help with dressing themselves and receiving support throughout the day to remember important facts and details.
6. Severe Decline
At this stage, your loved one will need a high level of care and support for severe cognitive decline.
They likely will need constant supervision to ensure their safety, plus help with dressing, meals, using the bathroom, and washing themselves.
They also may have an increased risk for developing infections.
Caregivers will need extra support at this stage as well, because a loved one may experience personality and behavior changes that can be troublesome for all involved.
Family members can try soothing their loved ones with their favorite activities and comforts, including music, scents, movies, and old photos.
7. Very Severe Decline
In late stage dementia, around-the-clock care from loving professionals is essential as your loved one experiences very severe cognitive decline.
Your loved one will need help with basic activities such as eating and drinking. They may be unable to tell when they’re hungry or thirsty, and they may lack the ability to communicate.
The focus shifts to preserving quality of life through comfort and pain management techniques, as well as other medical and spiritual supports.
What are the Risk Factors for Vascular Dementia?
Because vascular dementia commonly occurs as a result of conditions that damage blood vessels in the brain, the risk factors for this type of dementia are similar to stroke or heart disease.
These risks include:
- Adults aged 65 or older
- History of heart attack or stroke
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Abnormal aging of blood vessels
- Atrial fibrillation (abnormal heart rhythm)
Brain and heart health are strongly connected.
Those at risk of developing vascular dementia can reduce their risk by quitting smoking, exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet, and working with a doctor to maintain any health issues.
How to Support a Loved One Experiencing Dementia Symptoms
As your loved one’s dementia worsens, it can become increasingly difficult for family caregivers to keep up with the levels of care your loved one needs.
Creating a care plan soon after your loved one’s diagnosis is the best way to address their care needs over time.
Finding a loving community should be a part of your care plan, to ensure your loved one has a place to receive the type of advanced, loving care they need.
The Kensington was proud to partner with Jennie Clark of Stanford’s Aging Adult Services at Stanford Health Care for this virtual presentation. During this open and honest discussion, Jennie guides you through common questions that caregivers have when caring for their loved ones with dementia.
The Kensington White Plains Offers Enhanced Assisted Living for Those with Vascular Dementia
Moving your loved one to an enhanced assisted living community that offers specialized memory care can provide you comfort and peace of mind during a difficult transition.
The Kensington White Plains has an enhanced assisted living license (EALR), which means we are trained and staffed to be able to care for even the most frail and sickly residents.
This is acuity care — where no matter what your loved one’s care needs are or how they progress, they have a home with us.
Our Promise is to love and care for your family as we do our own. We work hard to provide true “aging in place” for our residents, and make all the services they need as easily accessible as possible.
These services include:
- On-site rehabilitation
- Fine dining
- Full calendar of life enrichment activities
- Collaborative care approach
If you have questions about our care or services, or are seeking dementia resources, please don’t hesitate to reach out to our team today.
We are committed to providing a comfortable, joyful experience for our residents and their families.