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Neurological Manifestations of Vascular Dementia Clinical Presentation

  • Author: Jasvinder Chawla, MD, MBA; Chief Editor: Niranjan N Singh, MD, DM  more...
Updated: Apr 11, 2016


Criteria for the diagnosis of dementia require impairment in memory and at least 1 other cognitive domain (eg, orientation, language, praxis, executive functions, visuospatial abilities). These should be serious enough to affect activities of daily living and be consistently present to distinguish dementia from episodic impairments of consciousness such as delirium.

Currently, several sets of diagnostic criteria for vascular dementia exist. This list summarizes the main common criteria.

  • Vascular risk factors such as hypertension, coronary disease, and diabetes mellitus [17]
  • Specific evidence of cerebrovascular disease, eg, strokes and transient ischemic attacks: The cerebrovascular insult should precede (by no more than 3 months) or coincide with the onset or worsening of cognitive abnormalities.
  • Neuroimaging evidence of strokes
  • Lateralizing neurologic signs
  • Psychiatric disturbances (eg, emotional lability, depression, apathy)

Depression is a common comorbidity in patients with cerebrovascular disease and vascular dementia.

Medications should be reviewed because of the potential of drugs to interfere with alertness and cognition.

Differences between the cognitive disturbances in vascular dementia and Alzheimer disease are of limited value in discriminating vascular dementia from Alzheimer disease in a clinical setting.

  • Vascular dementia is thought to be associated with less significant memory dysfunction than Alzheimer disease. [3]
  • Frontal dysfunction due to widespread involvement of subcortical structures in vascular dementia is thought to lead to a dysexecutive syndrome with abulia and apathy.

A cognitively impaired patient with vascular risks factors but no history of cerebrovascular disease is most likely to have Alzheimer disease. Patients with dementia and vascular disease frequently have mixed pathology (ie, both Alzheimer disease and vascular dementia).



The physical examination should be focused on the cardiovascular system and neurologic localizing signs.

  • The temporal arteries may show decreased pulsatility, local tenderness, and thickening associated with giant cell arteritis. [5]
  • Funduscopic examination provides important information regarding end-organ effects of hypertension and diabetes mellitus.
  • Cardiac auscultation may detect rhythmic and valvular abnormalities.
  • Low scores on a standardized instrument (eg, Mini Mental Status Examination, Short Blessed questionnaire) can provide corroborating evidence of a cognitive disturbance.
  • Spasticity, hemiparesis, visual field defects, pseudobulbar palsy, and extrapyramidal signs confirm focal pathology.


Vascular dementia and cerebrovascular disease share risk factors, including age, male sex, diabetes mellitus, hypertension, cardiomyopathy, and possibly homocysteine levels.

  • So far, no relationship between cholesterol, serum lipoproteins, and the risk of vascular dementia is clearly indicated.
  • Evidence for tobacco consumption as a risk factor for vascular dementia is conflicting. However, a multiethnic, population-based study published in 2010 suggested that the brain is not immune to long-term consequences of heavy smoking. In fact, 21,123 heavy midlife smokers were followed for a mean of 23 years and were found more than 2 decades later to have a greater than 100% increased risk of dementia, Alzheimer disease, and vascular dementia. [18]
  • Limited alcohol consumption may be protective. [19]
Contributor Information and Disclosures

Jasvinder Chawla, MD, MBA Chief of Neurology, Hines Veterans Affairs Hospital; Professor of Neurology, Loyola University Medical Center

Jasvinder Chawla, MD, MBA is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Neurology, American Association of Neuromuscular and Electrodiagnostic Medicine, American Clinical Neurophysiology Society, American Medical Association

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.


Fredy J Revilla, MD Associate Professor of Neurology, Director, Movement Disorders Center, James J and Joan A Gardner Family Center Endowed Chair for Parkinson's Disease and Other Movement Disorders, University of Cincinnati College of Medicine; Staff Physician/Neurologist, Cincinnati Veterans Affairs Medical Center; Staff Physician/Neurologist, Huntington's Disease Clinic, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center

Fredy J Revilla, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Neurology, International Parkinson and Movement Disorder Society, Society for Neuroscience

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Jaime Grutzendler, MD Assistant Professor, Department of Neurology and Physiology, Northwestern University School of Medicine

Jaime Grutzendler, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Neurology, Society for Neuroscience

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Giovanni d'Avossa, MD Lecturer, School of Psychology, Bangor University; NHS Honorary Consultant in Neurology

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Specialty Editor Board

Francisco Talavera, PharmD, PhD Adjunct Assistant Professor, University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy; Editor-in-Chief, Medscape Drug Reference

Disclosure: Received salary from Medscape for employment. for: Medscape.

Jorge C Kattah, MD Head, Associate Program Director, Professor, Department of Neurology, University of Illinois College of Medicine at Peoria

Jorge C Kattah, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Neurology, American Neurological Association, New York Academy of Sciences

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Chief Editor

Niranjan N Singh, MD, DM Associate Professor of Neurology, University of Missouri-Columbia School of Medicine

Niranjan N Singh, MD, DM is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Neurology, American Association of Neuromuscular and Electrodiagnostic Medicine, American Headache Society

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Additional Contributors

Christopher Luzzio, MD Clinical Assistant Professor, Department of Neurology, University of Wisconsin at Madison School of Medicine and Public Health

Christopher Luzzio, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Neurology

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

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