Vascular Dementia

Vascular dementia is a neurodegenerative disorder that occurs due to cerebrovascular disease and hypoperfusion. This can range from large vessel stroke to microvascular disease. The symptoms and presentation can be heterogenous, depending on the extent of vascular lesions and the anatomical location. Lesions can be limited to a single site, multifocal, or diffusely distributed.


The prevalence for vascular dementia ranges from 0.2% in the 65-70 years age group to 16% in 80 years and older. Within 3 months post-stroke, 20%-30% of individuals are diagnosed with dementia. Prevalence is also higher in males than in females.


Patients with vascular dementia often have multiple infarctions, and there is often an acute onset and stepwise decline (i.e. - symptoms stay the same for a while and then suddenly get worse, due to a sudden cerebrovascular event). There can be intervening periods of stability and even improvement in some cases.[1]

Criterion A

The criteria are met for major or mild neurocognitive disorder.

Criterion B

The clinical features are consistent with a vascular etiology, as suggested by either of the following:

  1. Onset of the cognitive deficits is temporally related to one or more cerebrovascular events.
  2. Evidence for decline is prominent in complex attention (including processing speed) and frontal-executive function.
Criterion C

There is evidence of the presence of cerebrovascular disease from history, physical examination, and/or neuroimaging considered sufficient to account for the neurocognitive deficits.

Criterion D

The symptoms are not better explained by another brain disease or systemic disorder.

Probable vs. Possible

Probable vascular neurocognitive disorder is diagnosed if one of the following is present; otherwise possible vascular neurocognitive disorder should be diagnosed:

  1. Clinical criteria are supported by neuroimaging evidence of significant parenchymal injury attributed to cerebrovascular disease (neuroimaging-supported)
  2. The neurocognitive syndrome is temporally related to one or more documented cerebrovascular events
  3. Both clinical and genetic (e.g. - cerebral autosomal dominant arteriopathy with subcortical infarcts and leukoencephalopathy) evidence of cerebrovascular disease is present.

Possible vascular neurocognitive disorder is diagnosed if the clinical criteria are met but neuroimaging is not available and the temporal relationship of the neurocognitive syndrome with one or more cerebrovascular events is not established.



Specify if:

  • Probable major vascular neurocognitive disorder, with behavioral disturbance
  • Probable major vascular neurocognitive disorder, without behavioral disturbance
  • Possible major vascular neurocognitive disorder, with behavioral disturbance
  • Possible major vascular neurocognitive disorder, without behavioral disturbance

In order to diagnose probable vascular dementia, there must be abnormalities on found on neuroimaging. However, if the neurocognitive impairment is temporally associated with one or more well-documented strokes, a probable diagnosis can be made in the absence of neuroimaging. For mild vascular dementia, history of a single stroke or extensive white matter disease is generally sufficient. For major vascular dementia, two or more strokes, a strategically placed stroke, or a combination of white matter disease and one or more lacunar is necessary.

Neuroimaging evidence (either Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) or Computed Tomography (CT)) of cerebrovascular disease should show:

  • One or more large vessel infarcts or hemorrhages, or
  • A single infarct or hemorrhage (e.g., in angular gyrus, thalamus, basal forebrain), or
  • Two or more lacunar infarcts outside the brain stem, or
  • Extensive and confluent white matter lesions (also known as small vessel disease or subcortical ischemic changes)

In patients with a stroke history, lowering blood pressure is effective for reducing the risk of post-stroke depression.

  • Acetylcholinesterase inhibitors (donepezil, rivastigmine, and galantamine) as a class are modestly efficacious for patients with mixed AD and vascular dementia pathology, and a trial of these medications is recommended for most patients diagnosed with AD.[2]
  • However, in isolated vascular dementia, there is insufficient and inconsistent evidence support on whether acetylcholinesterase inhibitors are effective.[3]