Steve Thompson recalls signs of his early-onset dementia
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Helen Green, Admiral Nurse at Dementia UK, said vascular dementia is the second most common form of dementia. She explained it is caused by disruption of the blood supply to the brain preventing oxygen reaching the cells of the brain. She said: “It’s vital for the brain to receive blood and oxygen in order to carry out its functions. If disruption occurs and this is unable to happen, brain cells will die.”
Ms Green said: “The death of brain cells can lead to a variety of problems with cognition such as increased confusion and disorientation, communication, thinking and reasoning. This can occur gradually due to disease, or come on suddenly, for example with a stroke.”
She added that for some people, the cause of vascular dementia may be blocked arteries which can be caused by an unhealthy diet. For others, it may be caused by bursting of blood vessels in the brain such as after a traumatic injury.
Ms Green said problems with communication or reasoning are not always caused by vascular dementia.
She said: “But if someone is experiencing a collection of symptoms which are having a significant impact on their life, it could be vascular dementia. That’s why it’s advisable to book an appointment with a GP to rule out other treatable conditions, or to move forward with a dementia diagnosis.”
The nurse added that symptoms vary from person to person, as this can depend on where the damage has occurred, as different areas of the brain control different abilities and function.
She said: “Ensuring that any dementia support is tailored to a person’s life experiences, personality, support networks and environment is essential to improve quality of life.”
Ms Green explained: “Common early symptoms experienced by those living with vascular dementia include difficulties with planning, reduced concentration and struggling with complex tasks.
“In the early stages people may also find it difficult to problem solve or follow instructions in a sequential way. This is because of the damage to the blood cells which affects cognition.”
She said: “Therefore, if a family member is finding tasks much more difficult than they did previously, you may like to visit the GP with them to discuss this.”
She also noted vascular dementia often has a “stepped” progression, meaning that symptoms can “fluctuate and worsen rapidly at times, particularly if further underlying physical health issues have occurred”.
For example, if the person experiences a further stroke or transient ischaemic attack (TIA), their presentation can change immediately afterwards and they are likely to experience increased confusion, agitation and anxiety.
“These symptoms may improve after a few days, but not to the previous level. As dementia is a degenerative condition, there will be an overall decline in the person’s abilities over time,” said Ms Green.
She also noted: “Sometimes people can mistakenly associate all forms of dementia with memory loss. However, this is not always the case. With vascular dementia, memory problems may not be an issue initially if this area of the brain has not been damaged, although they may occur later on.
“Difficulties with language, problem solving or maintaining focus may be evident before there are issues evident with short-term memory.”
The dementia expert said people with vascular dementia may also experience changes to their mood or behaviour.
She said conditions such as depression and anxiety can occur at the same time as vascular dementia and affect the person’s concentration and motivation to engage in tasks or activities.
“What’s also important to remember is that the initial visit to the GP and potential dementia diagnosis can make people feel anxious and worried about the future.
“They might find it difficult to come to terms with their diagnosis and so recognising this and offering reassurance is important.”
Ms Green added: “There is evidence to suggest maintaining a healthy lifestyle can reduce the risk
of developing vascular dementia; after all, what is good for the heart is also good for the brain.
“This is why investment in public health, such as smoking cessation programmes, physical activity schemes and dietary advice is essential.”
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