Vascular Dementia

What Are The Causes & Risk Factors?

Vascular dementia is caused by blocked or reduced blood flow to the brain,  resulting in the brain not getting the oxygen and nutrients it needs. This often  happens because of cardiovascular problems or stroke. It’s uncommon to get it  before age 65. Some risk factors include: 

Caregiver reading elderly woman a book
  • Increasing age.
  • Family history of dementia. 
  • History of a stroke or mini-stroke. This may not always cause vascular  dementia, as it can depend on the severity and location of the stroke.
  • History of heart attack.  
  • Risk factors for heart disease & stroke. Ex. high cholesterol, high blood  pressure, diabetes, obesity, and abnormal heart rhythm.  
  • Conditions that damage blood vessels & reduce circulation. These can reduce  the oxygen and nutrients available to the brain.  
  • Sleep apnea.
  • Lifestyle factors like smoking, inactivity, or an unhealthy diet. 

It is possible to have vascular dementia and another type of  dementia, like Alzheimer’s disease, simultaneously.

What Are The Symptoms?


  • Memory problems (short-term memory may not be affected)
  • Losing things (and misplacing them in strange places) 
  • Word-finding difficulties
  • Getting lost

Personality & Behavior

  • Changes in mood, like increased anxiety, anger, or depression
  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities
  • Seeing or hearing things that aren’t there (hallucinations), or believing  something that isn’t true (delusions)

Judgment & Decision Making

  • Poor judgment and difficulty perceiving danger

Task Performance

  • Difficulty planning and organizing task steps 
  • Slowed processing speed 
  • Difficulty doing familiar tasks  
  • Difficulty following instructions 
  • Trouble learning new information
  • Difficulty with attention and concentration


  • Sleep pattern changes 
  • Confusion 
  • Sundowning 
  • Movement or balance issues 
  • Gait changes 
  • Urinary urgency or incontinence 
  • Tremors
  • Stroke symptoms, like weakness

Important Note

Not everyone will experience every symptom, as it can depend on the location and amount of brain tissue involved. These symptoms may not mean a person has vascular dementia, so it’s important to rule out other causes by talking to a doctor.

What Can You Expect?

  • Disease progression is different from person to person. 
  • Symptoms may appear suddenly or gradually and then progress over time. They may also have short periods of improvement.
  • Symptoms may worsen after major surgery, a heart attack, or a stroke.
  • Your care recipient may require specialized care as the disease progresses, like full-time nursing care or living at a care facility.

What Treatments Are Available?

There is no cure for vascular dementia, but there are treatments available that  may help slow disease progression. 

  • Medications. Prescribed medications may treat underlying causes affecting  blood flow to the brain to reduce additional brain damage. These may include  medications to prevent strokes or to manage high blood pressure, diabetes,  blood clots, cholesterol, or triglycerides. They may also be prescribed  medications to treat dementia or mood symptoms. Talk to a healthcare  provider about whether these would be appropriate. 
  • Medical Procedures. These include procedures that improve blood flow to the brain, like stenting, angioplasty, and carotid endarterectomy.
  • Lifestyle Changes. Quitting smoking, staying active, eating a healthy diet,  maintaining a healthy weight, and reducing alcohol consumption can support  health.

Additional Resources

  • Caregiver helping with aggressive behavior

    Dementia and Aggressive Behavior

  • Caregiver assisting senior man out of bed

    Dementia and Skills for Responding to Communication Changes

  • Caregiver helping woman walk

    Lewy Body Dementia

  • Caregiver assisting man out of bed

    Frontotemporal Dementia