Both dementia and a stroke can significantly impact a person’s life, from the physical effects to the strain on your emotional wellbeing. Quite often, people are unfamiliar with the causes and impacts of dementia and strokes until they, or a loved one, have experienced them. There are numerous online resources which explain the link between a stroke and dementia, but we understand that this information can be difficult to understand, which is why we have put together a simple guide on how stroke and dementia are connected.
The link between stroke and dementia
Vascular dementia is a common type of dementia which is caused by reduced blood flow to the brain. When you have a stroke, the supply of blood to the brain is restricted or stopped, which begins killing brain cells. A stroke can lead to brain injury or difficulty with thinking and memory, and for many people, these effects improve gradually over time. However, if the symptoms do not improve or get worse, this can be a sign of vascular dementia.
Vascular dementia can be caused by:
- A stroke – known as post-stroke dementia or single-infarct dementia
- A series of mini strokes – known as multi-infarct dementia
- The narrowing of small blood vessels deep inside the brain – known as subcortical vascular dementia
There are several factors that increase the risk of a stroke, such as consuming large quantities of alcohol, an unhealthy diet, not doing any exercise, high cholesterol, high blood-pressure and diabetes. By making changes to your lifestyle, such as eating a balanced diet, doing more exercise and treating your long-term health conditions, you may reduce the risk of experiencing a stroke and, subsequently, vascular dementia.
Can a stroke cause dementia?
The short answer is yes, a stroke can cause vascular dementia. However, this does not mean that everyone who has a stroke experiences dementia as a result. According to the Alzheimer’s Society, about 20% of people who have a stroke develop vascular dementia within the following six months.
The most common early symptoms of vascular dementia are:
- Difficulty planning, organising, making decisions and problem solving
- Difficulty concentrating
- Slowed thought processing
- Difficulty following instructions or an ordered list (such as a recipe)
Alongside cognitive symptoms, it is common for someone experiencing early vascular dementia to have changes within their emotional wellbeing, such as depression, anxiety and apathy. Changes to someone’s mood are not always good indicators as to whether someone has vascular dementia or not, as after a stroke it is not unusual to experience poor mental health, so it’s important to bear in mind that these symptoms may not exclusively point to vascular dementia. It is best to monitor your loved one’s behaviours and physical symptoms and keep an eye out for anything unusual, you should contact their GP if you have any concerns.
What happens when someone with dementia has a stroke?
If someone living with dementia has a stroke, they may find the recovery process and symptoms more difficult to understand compared to someone without dementia. The physical and emotional impacts of having a stroke can include pain, stiffness, weakness, depression and anxiety. If your loved one has dementia and has experienced a stroke, there are medications and therapies that can alleviate these symptoms and support you and your loved one throughout their aftercare. Please contact your GP to discuss the options available to you.
Alongside medical support, it is important to provide as much assistance as possible to someone recovering from a stroke, especially if they are living with dementia. It could be that they are experiencing weakness in their legs and are therefore more susceptible to falls, so they might need a supportive arm as they navigate through the home. Or, perhaps your loved one is having difficulty understanding the pain in their arm; in which case, try to explain why it is painful in short and simple sentences. By being there to guide and comfort your loved one, they will feel more at ease.
It is important to look out for non-verbal signs of pain or changes in behaviour, such as difficulty walking alone, a loss of interest in exercise/going out and difficulty swallowing (dysphagia). Non-verbal signs can indicate that someone is struggling with the effects of a stroke, but they may not be able to communicate their concerns to you or understand why they are experiencing these symptoms.
What support is available?
We understand that looking after a loved one living with vascular dementia can take a toll, and we believe that neither you nor your loved one should have to compromise your wellbeing or happiness. Helping Hands provide specialist dementia and stroke care that enables you or your loved one to continue to live safely at home.
For more information, please call 0330 029 8699 or request a callback and we will call you.