Symptoms of vascular dementia

Some symptoms of vascular dementia can be similar to those of other types of dementia, such as problems with memory and thinking, and changes in mood or behaviour. However, they may appear in different ways.

Memory loss is very common in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, but is not usually the main early symptom of vascular dementia.

Early symptoms of vascular dementia

The most common symptoms during the early stages of vascular dementia are:

  • problems with planning or organising, making decisions or solving problems
  • difficulties following a series of steps (such as cooking a meal)
  • slower speed of thought
  • problems concentrating, including short periods of sudden confusion.

A person in the early stages of vascular dementia may also have difficulties with:

  • their memory – for example, they may have problems recalling names or recent events (although this may be mild)
  • their language – for example, their speech may become less fluent.

Different types of vascular dementia can have different symptoms.

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Changes in mood

People with vascular dementia often experience mood changes, such as depression, anxiety or apathy. Depression is a particularly common symptom. A person may become depressed because they are worried about having dementia. Depression can also be caused by damage to parts of the brain that control emotions. 

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Sometimes, a person with vascular dementia may experience stronger emotions than they did before. They may be prone to mood swings and being unusually tearful or happy.

Changes in behaviour

As a person’s vascular dementia progresses, they may begin to behave in ways that seem out of character. For example, they may become more agitated or aggressive, or have sleep problems. They may also act in ways that others find embarrassing or difficult to understand.

This may be because they are trying to communicate a need – for example, that they are hungry, confused, tired or in pain. It could also be because the parts of their brain that tell them what’s acceptable and control inhibitions no longer work properly, so the person doesn’t understand that what they are doing or saying is inappropriate.

For more information see How does dementia change a person’s behaviour?

Delusions and hallucinations

Delusions (persistently thinking things that are not true) happen occasionally in people with vascular dementia. Common examples include believing that someone has stolen from them, or believing that someone who has died is still alive and will be coming home soon.

Less often, a person with vascular dementia may have hallucinations (sensing, seeing or hearing things that are not really there). For some people these may be disturbing.

For more information, see How can dementia change a person’s perception?

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