For a long time, doctors around the world associated strokes to the most common causes of dementia. But how accurate is this diagnosis? In the last 50 years, a lot of studies have been made to pinpoint the real causes of dementia, and although strokes commonly show up, the consensus has changed: strokes can be directly related only to vascular dementia. But first, let’s dwell on what’s and why’s of dementia and strokes.
What is a Stroke?
A stroke can be defined as a medical emergency that happens when the blood flow to the brain is artificially interrupted. When this happens, brain cells start to die because of the lack of oxygen and symptoms can vary from lasting disability to even death.
There are also multiple kinds of strokes:
- Transient ischemic attack: Also referred to as a “ministroke”, it’s a clot that temporarily blocks blood flow to your brain and its symptoms last for a short period of time even without treatment.
- Ischemic stroke: It occurs when a blood clot, often due to atherosclerosis, keeps blood from flowing to your brain for a longer period of time. Ischemic strokes can be Embolic or Thrombotic. Embolic means that blood clot could’ve been generated in another part of your body and traveled to your brain. Thrombotic means that it generated in a blood vessel in your brain. Symptoms of ischemic strokes can only be cured with strict treatments.
- Hemorrhagic stroke: It happens when a blood vessel in your brain breaks and spills blood into the surrounding tissues. Like Ischemic strokes, hemorrhagic strokes present in two forms: Aneurysm and Arteriovenous Malformation. An aneurysm causes a portion of the weakened blood vessel to balloon outward and rupture, while arteriovenous malformation involves abnormally formed blood vessels.
What is Dementia?
Let’s start with the basic: Dementia is not a particular disease. It’s a general term that describes a range of symptoms associated with the decline in memory, cognitive abilities, and other thinking skills, severe enough to affect everyday activities.
Today we will focus on Vascular Dementia, the most common type associated with strokes.
Vascular Dementia is a post-stroke problem that affects cognitive function and thinking abilities, making it difficult to process information leading to memory loss, confusion, problems performing everyday activities decreased attention span. However, the direct correlation between the stroke and this particular kind of dementia depends on the stroke’s severity and its location. Other conditions that affect blood vessels can be the causes of vascular dementia, as they also reduce circulation and deprive the brain of oxygen and nutrients.
Symptoms of vascular dementia include:
- Memory loss
- Aphasia (Language problems)
- Attention span problems
- Problems planning and organizing tasks
- Difficulty with calculations and decision making
- Visual orientation problems
- Impaired motor skills
Vascular dementia can be treated controlling the conditions that affect the health of your heart and blood vessels. Depending on the severity of the condition, your doctor may prescribe medications to that lower your blood pressure, reduce your cholesterol, prevent blood from clotting and help control your blood sugar (in case you have diabetes).
Other tips for controlling dementia outside of medication can be:
- For memory problems, make lists, take notes and establish routines on a regular basis
- For cognitive symptoms, work with a speech therapist, play card games or even computer programs and applications to sharpen brain functions.
- Consult with a physical or occupational therapist to maintain your independence.
- Reduce isolation by attending stroke support groups, which help you to connect with others. Also, practice social skills and seek advice.
- Discuss your needs with your employer if vascular dementia impacts your functioning at work.