Could this be what is affecting Mom?
As discussed in our last article (What is dementia?) there are many different types of dementia. Most people think of Alzheimer’s Disease when they think of dementia but Vascular dementia is the 2nd most common type. This type may also be called multi-infarct dementia (MID).
There are similarities and also differences between these two types of dementia. The Alzheimer’s Association describes vascular dementia as a decline in thinking skills caused by conditions that block or reduce blood flow to the brain, depriving brain cells of vital oxygen and nutrients.
Vascular Dementia occurs when part of the brain does not get enough blood carrying the oxygen and nutrients it needs. The vessels become narrow or blocked. When blood supply to the brain is suddenly cut off a stroke occurs.
Wouldn’t I know if I had a stroke?
Not necessarily. Small Mini Strokes or TIA’s may only cause minor issues that see to disappear within a short period of time. They usually last 5 minutes or less. Many people will ignore this warning sign. They will chalk up their symptoms to stress or maybe not enough sleep the night before.
“Looking back, I realized that Sharon was having these mini-strokes for a while. Sometimes I would be talking to her on the phone and she suddenly made no sense at all. I had no idea something this serious was happening” said Kate. Kate’s mother in law suffers from vascular dementia. “After a full-blown stroke, we really began to notice changes in her behavior. She wasn’t the same person anymore.” Kate told me.
Vascular dementia can run concurrently with Alzheimer’s Disease. This can present a whole set of issues. In fact, it is not uncommon for someone to have several different types of dementia.
Some symptoms of vascular dementia include:
- Lack of Coordination and Balance
- Trouble Concentrating, planning and following through on activities
- Inability to follow instructions
- Trouble managing money
- Problems with short-term memory
- Laughing or crying at inappropriate times
- Loss of bladder and bowel control
- Hallucinations and delusions
In vascular dementia loss of coordination and balance is common in the early stages. This is one sign doctors look for when diagnosing this disease. In Alzheimer’s Disease, this symptom is usually found in the later stages.
When Mom Starts Having Falls
Pat began having a series of falls. The first few did not break any bones. Her family was concerned but had no idea this could be a symptom of something much bigger than a simple fall.
Then she fell and cut her head. And she had to have stitches. It happened when she was outside in her front yard. The neighbors said it looked like she tripped over something. But when they went to see how she was, they found nothing she could have tripped over. A month later she broke a couple of ribs going to the bathroom in the middle of the night.
The High Cost of Care at Home
Again, the family was concerned. They hired a caregiver. But to have someone with her around the clock cost an absolute fortune.
“She would have been broke in no time!” Her son told me. Not knowing what to do he simply did nothing. And then the big fall came. Her children received that dreaded middle of the night call. She had broken her hip.
Now It Was Time to Move Mom
There really wasn’t a choice. For her safety and to stretch her finances mom would need to move into an assisted living facility. This would provide care around the clock.
Her Body Healed But Not Her Mind
Her family worried she would never walk again. But she surprised everyone. She did well in physical therapy and was soon walking again with her walker. Unfortunately, the same could not be said about her mental state.
Though she would not be diagnosed for several years, Pat had vascular dementia. This added an extra concern. It would be important to find the right assisted living facility. She would need one that was Certified in Memory Care. This means that the staff would be specially trained to handle issues associated with dementia.
Confusing for Families
Unfortunately, it took a crisis to help this family make the best decision for Pat’s care. The really confusing thing about this disease is it doesn’t follow a straight-line progression. One day, Pat seemed perfectly fine and the next day she did not make any sense at all. Her personality and behavior changed also. When she was having a good day her sons and daughter in laws began to think that maybe they had simply imagined there was a problem.
Eventually, though, the good days became fewer and fewer.
Even More Confusing for Family That Lived Far Away
In the beginning stages, someone with this disease can fool you into believing they are fine. A son calls and mom asks about his day. He talks and she listens. At the end of the “conversation”, the son thinks all is fine with his mother. The truth is he never took the time to really listen. On top of this, he really doesn’t want to believe that something like this could happen to his mom. I mean who would, right? We all would like to believe that our loved ones are invincible. That they will not have a disease like this.
So Who Is At Risk?
- Most commonly occurs between 60 and 75 years old
- Men are more likely to have vascular dementia than women
- Affects African Americans more than other races
- Heart Disease
- People who smoke
- Those who drink excessively
Of course, this is just a picture of those who are at higher risk than the general population.
The Good News Is
While you may not be able to reverse the damage already done you can avoid more damage. And if you are at risk, making some changes could prevent the disease.
A few lifestyle changes can help.
- Pay attention to your blood pressure. High blood pressure will put you at higher risk of having a stroke. See your doctor regularly if you are at risk.
- Quit smoking
- Limit your alcohol intake
- Follow a Heart-Healthy Diet
- Exercise regularly
These are some pretty simple steps. If you are at high risk you will probably want to get started right away. Get help from your doctor to develop a program you can follow. You don’t have to make drastic changes all at once. Maybe you start by declaring 3 days a week as heart-healthy days. On these days you exercise and follow a heart-healthy diet. Gradually add extra heart-healthy days to your week.
If you still smoke get the help you need to quit. It really could save your life. Make sure you manage your blood pressure and diabetes. Chances are if you begin to exercise and really follow a heart-healthy diet your blood pressure and diabetes symptoms may normalize. Check with your doctor regularly to see if your medicine needs to be adjusted. Many Type 2 Diabetics are able to get off of all medication.