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What is the Difference Between Vascular Dementia and Alzheimer’s?

Nov 26, 2018 by Stephanie Howe - Owner, Comfort Keepers

Knowing the Difference Between Vascular Dementia and Alzheimer’s

Many believe that dementia is the cause of Alzheimer’s disease. It’s the opposite. Alzheimer’s disease is one type of dementia. Dementia is a collection of brain disorders that make up the disease. Like other diseases, such as Autism and heart disease, it has a broad spectrum (variations). Both are similar in their symptoms (e.g. memory loss), but the main difference between them is how they are formed. For this blog, we are going to focus on vascular dementia. Both are diagnosed through cognitive testing along with MRI evidence.

Vascular dementia is caused when blood flow to the brain is blocked, which deprives the brain of oxygen and nutrients. This deprivation causes nerve cells in the brain to die. It can range from mild to severe, depending on damage to the blood vessels. It’s interesting to note that experts prefer to use the term vascular cognitive impairment (VCI) instead of vascular dementia because VCI is a better explanation for the vascular brain changes that cause the dementia. The range is not based on the changes being as progressive like Alzheimer’s.

Alzheimer’s disease is developed by plaques containing beta amyloid and fibers (or tangles) in the brain that damage or kill nerve cells, yet there is no definitive cause for them. Like vascular dementia, the killing of brain cells leads to a decline in cognitive skills. In the United States, over 5.7 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s. This disease has greatly impacted healthcare, causing President Barak Obama to make a presidential proclamation in 2016 that November is National Alzheimer’s Disease month. Also, the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association have declared November as national family caregiver month. The national recognition of caregivers and Alzheimer’s raises awareness and funds for their goals.

Vascular dementia is formed by an event such as a stroke, small vessel disease and mini-strokes (transient ischaemic attacks). Both develop in older adults and shorten the lifespan of elderly patients. Rehabilitation can help vascular dementia patients recover some of their skills prior to the stoke. With Alzheimer’s, there is no rehabilitation, only management of the symptoms. Although there is an annual proclamation by President Obama, many states have their own sample proclamations, dedicating a month to one or both of these diseases.

Symptoms of Vascular Dementia

Vascular dementia does look like Alzheimer’s because of the memory loss. However, the symptoms of vascular dementia can coexist with those of a stroke, such as:

  • Loss of concentration
  • Mood and personality changes
  • Confusion
  • Problems with coordination (e.g. driving)
  • Problems with daily living activities (e.g. shopping and playing games)
  • Speech problems (e.g. word usage and slurring)

As mentioned above, these symptoms can include psychological changes:

  1. Depression
  2. Anxiety
  3. Inappropriate behavior
  4. Agitation
  5. Hallucinations

The chronic conditions associated with vascular dementia include high blood pressure, strokes and diabetes.

Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease

Scientists are still researching the aspects of Alzheimer’s. Understanding them will lead to new treatments. As mentioned above, Alzheimer’s shares many characteristics of vascular dementia, but there are differences. This disease causes the loss of self-identification. There are two stages of symptoms: moderate and severe. Moderate symptoms include:

  • Difficulty with household tasks and/or personal finances
  • Problems with personal hygiene
  • Disruption of sleep patterns
  • Unable to recall one’s own phone number or address
  • Constant repetition of stories

Severe symptoms include:

  • Unable to recognize family members
  • May not talk
  • Lack of bowel or bladder control
  • Needing help with everyday activities

The chronic conditions associated with Alzheimer’s include malnutrition, pneumonia and urinary tract infections.

Risk Factors for Vascular Dementia & Alzheimer’s

Vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s share risk these factors:

  1. Age – Seniors age 65 and older are at greater risk.
  2. Family History – If there is a history of Alzheimer’s or heart disease.
  3. Unhealth Habits – overeating, smoking and excessive alcohol consumption.

Yet, vascular dementia is more preventable than Alzheimer’s since there is the connection to heart and blood vessel health. There are other risk factors for vascular dementia such as high cholesterol, diabetes mellitus, high blood pressure and heart disease.

Caring for Someone with Alzheimer’s or Vascular Dementia

Both are hard on caregivers (friends, family or neighbors) because of the change in personality, coordination and balance, not to mention the caregiving around the clock. The loved one is not the person the caregiver grew up with. This creates an amazing amount of stress for not just the caregiver, but family members too. They also create family caregiver issues, such as arguing over the best care for the parent. It is even harder to see wounded soldiers go through vascular dementia or Alzheimer’s when they reach old age.

Both require caregivers to not only make changes to how they care for their loved ones, but also in their homes. Extra precautions must be taken to ensure a safe and comfortable environment. This includes putting additional locks on the front and back doors to prevent wandering and supervising loved ones in the kitchen to prevent elder parents from using appliances that could harm to them. If the caregiver is not able to be with the loved one during the day, an adult day care center or hiring a home care profession may be needed. An in-home aide can assist a loved one with daily activities, such as dressing, grooming, exercising and eating. Also, the home care aide can perform meal preparation, light housekeeping and transportation. When the vascular dementia or Alzheimer’s has worsened to the point the caregiver cannot provide the care needed, moving the loved one to an assisted living facility or nursing home may be necessary. This is a heartbreaking decision and it is not an indication of failure on the caregiver’s part. It is simply a decision that is made in the best interest of the elderly parent or family member.

Invaluable Resources for Alzheimer’s & Vascular Dementia

Adult children (i.e. a young couple) must find ways to relieve stress, and there are many family caregiver organizations that provide caregiver resources on how to effectively deal with family caregiver issues. The National Family Caregiver Alliance is one support group that provides peer support and resources for families of caregivers. It is a non-profit organization founded over 40 years ago that gives a voice to caregivers and their needs. Another support group is the National Alliance for Caregiving. This group provides a caregiver action network for the goal of improving the lives of family caregivers. The American Society on Aging and Alzheimer’s Association are also great resources on research and education. On the local level, there are there are community services that provide an array of help. Don’t forget about AARP!

Social media is a great tool for getting the word out about these diseases. This can be done with a social media kit, which will help you:

  1. Post on Facebook:
  • Events for Alzheimer’s or vascular dementia (i.e. walks)
  • New resources and therapies
  • Donations (e.g. in lieu of a birthday or wedding gift)
  • Share a story about caregiving or post questions
  1. Post on Instagram
  • Image of event or caregiver
  • Hashtag (get creative!)
  1. Tweet
  • Facts about on both diseases
  • New events
  • Resources or contact information for local chapter for Alzheimer’s disease or vascular disease

You can also create a blog or post a video about your experience with the one or both diseases.

Expert Home Care in Robbinsville

At Comfort Keepers, we service many communities in New Jersey, so you can be sure to find a location near you. We offer a range of customized senior care services to supercharge your caregiving, from companionship and respite care to Alzheimer’s care and interactive caregiving. Contact us today for a free in-home consultation!

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