A series of small strokes can cause vascular dementia. Dementia refers to a group of symptoms associated with cognitive decline. This includes problems with memory, communication, and concentration.

A stroke occurs when blood flow to a region of the brain is interrupted. If this happens because a blood vessel bursts, it’s known as a hemorrhagic stroke. Although this type of stroke is less common, it’s more likely to result in complications, including death.

If the stroke happens because of a blockage caused by a blood clot, it’s known as an ischemic stroke.

If blood flow is temporarily interrupted and restored on its own, it’s known as a transient ischemic attack (TIA), or “ministroke.” TIA symptoms last less than 24 hours before resolving, but they’re still a medical emergency.

Both ischemic strokes and TIAs are associated with vascular dementia.

Learn more about the differences between strokes and TIAs.

The symptoms of vascular dementia can vary from person to person. There are also different types of vascular dementia.

Symptoms may vary according to which brain region is affected by the stroke. For example, one or more strokes in the frontal lobe of the brain may affect decision-making and personality, while strokes in the hypothalamus and amygdala may affect memory and emotions.

If you’ve had a stroke, you may find that symptoms of dementia develop suddenly. When vascular dementia is the result of another condition, symptoms tend to develop gradually.

Early signs of vascular dementia include:

As vascular dementia advances, you may also develop symptoms like:

It’s also common to experience changes in mood and personality. These may include:

Read about the differences between Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia.

If a stroke affects areas of the brain that control cognitive functions, these functions may be permanently compromised.

The chance of developing dementia after a stroke depends on which parts of your brain were affected and the severity of brain damage. Your age, sex, and family history may also play a role. Having multiple small strokes also increases your chance of vascular dementia.

Small vessel disease is a risk factor for stroke that may lead to many small strokes. These strokes may cause a gradual onset of vascular dementia.

Vascular dementia involves difficulty processing information. Although it’s a common post-stroke symptom, not everyone who has a stroke experiences vascular dementia.

Adults over age 65 years who have a high chance of having a stroke may also have an increased chance of dementia unrelated to stroke.

It is possible to have more than one type of dementia. In other words, someone may have dementia symptoms caused by an ischemic stroke, and different dementia symptoms from another cause, like Alzheimer’s disease.

Learn more about ischemic strokes.

Three types of vascular dementia are related to having a stroke. Each type is defined based on how many strokes you’ve had and which areas of the brain are affected. Symptoms vary and can progress in different ways.

Single-infarct dementia

An infarct refers to an area of cells that has died from a lack of blood supply. This typically happens when someone has one severe ischemic stroke.

Multi-infarct dementia

This type of vascular dementia generally occurs after a person has had multiple small strokes over time. These strokes can cause tiny spots of damage scattered throughout the brain. This includes having multiple TIAs.

Subcortical dementia

Subcortical dementia is associated with lacunar stroke, a form of ischemic stroke. Lacunar stroke occurs when small arteries located deep in the brain are blocked.

It’s also known as subcortical vascular dementia.

Small vessel disease may happen when vessels deep inside your brain become completely blocked as a result of a lacunar stroke. The resulting damage may progress to subcortical dementia.

Mixed dementia

When vascular dementia occurs at the same time as Alzheimer’s disease, it’s known as mixed dementia. One of the two types is generally more apparent. The dominant type may determine the course of treatment.

Although doctors generally diagnose dementia, it’s sometimes difficult to determine the specific dementia type.

A healthcare team may place particular importance on the description of the symptoms. This can help them narrow down the possible causes and make a more accurate diagnosis.

A review of your complete medical history, including family history, will also play a part in the diagnosing phase. If necessary, you may undergo individual diagnosing tests for:

Because vascular dementia is a complex condition that may get progressively worse as more small strokes occur, a primary doctor may recommend seeing additional specialists.

A neurologist will likely check your overall neurological health. To do this, they may test your:

They may also order tests to rule out other possible causes of memory loss and confusion, including thyroid disorders or vitamin deficiencies.

Brain imaging tests, such as a cranial CT scan or MRI, may also be necessary. These can help doctors identify affected brain areas and visual abnormalities.

Treatment for vascular dementia often focuses on preventing future strokes. Managing existing conditions, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, and infections is a priority.

Although there aren’t any medications specifically for vascular dementia, treatment plans also may include medication recommended for people with Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia.

Medications used for Alzheimer’s disease include cholinesterase inhibitors and memantine (Namenda).

Cholinesterase inhibitors boost the levels of a chemical messenger in your brain that’s involved with memory and judgment.

The drug memantine helps regulate a different chemical messenger in the brain. This messenger deals with information processing and memory.

Read more about stroke treatment options.

Treatment plans for vascular dementia may also include recommendations for lifestyle changes and self-care strategies. Lifestyle changes may help prevent future strokes and improve existing cognitive challenges and other post-stroke physical symptoms.

Potential lifestyle changes include:

Learn about brain exercises for stroke recovery.

Vascular dementia may progress if you have additional strokes. You may experience a sudden change in symptoms followed by a relatively stable period with consistently predictable symptoms.

Vascular dementia can shorten your overall life expectancy. This is because the condition is associated with complications like pneumonia. However, ongoing treatment may help slow down the progression of the condition and improve quality of life.

You may find it beneficial to take the following actions:

  • Increase cognitive stimulation to help keep memory and communication active.
  • Break routines into smaller, more manageable steps. This can help decrease frustration, anxiety, and depressive feelings. It may also help increase your sense of confidence and self-worth.
  • Adhere to rehabilitation and treatment guidelines.

Learn more about stroke recovery.

A series of small strokes may lead to vascular dementia, a type of cognitive decline associated with brain damage. Symptoms may include memory loss, confusion, difficulty making decisions and planning, and disorientation. Dementia may get worse if you continue having small strokes over time, but treatment may help with symptoms and complications.