What is vascular dementia?

What is vascular dementia? In this video of Caregiving Talk with Earth Angels Home Care, Jennifer of Simple Local Life and Rosanne Burke, a Certified Positive Approach to Care Trainer with Earth Angels Home Care, talk about Rosanne's experience as a care partner to her dad who lived with vascular dementia. What causes vascular dementia? What are the warning signs? How can you get help if you're caring for a loved one with dementia? Watch the video to learn more about vascular dementia and a special Positive Approach to Care workshop coming up!

How did you become interested in dementia care? Tell us a little bit about your story.

I became interested in dementia care about five years ago when my dad was diagnosed with vascular dementia. He was eighty-five years old, widowed for about eight years and lived well at home until the diagnosis of dementia came along. I cared for him at home for about a year and then he moved to a nursing home where he lived for over three years. I was the only one of his three children who lived in the province, so I was very involved with his care and visited him almost every day while he was in the nursing home.

What warning signs did you see in your dad before he was diagnosed?

There are ten warning signs of dementia that we should all be aware of. Looking back, I can see that all ten of the warning signs were present but at the time I didn’t know they were warning signs.

For example, memory loss was there, and not the memory loss related to normal aging like forgetting the name of a person you met six months ago. With my dad, it was memory loss that affected his ability to stay safe at home. He lost the ability to perform familiar tasks like making coffee and using the microwave. He was getting lost in familiar places like his neighbourhood when he went for walks. He was misplacing things and items were showing up in strange places all the time.

He also lost the ability to discern real money from other currencies like money from Mexico from a trip he had been on or fake money, so his abstract thinking was affected.

I saw changes to his personality, behaviour and loss of initiative.

But again, I didn’t understand that these were warning signs of dementia and no one explained to me when he was diagnosed that this was part of the condition of dementia, so I was very frustrated and stressed at the time.

You said he had vascular dementia. Explain to us what that means.

Dementia is the big umbrella term that represents a set of symptoms caused by diseases or disorders affecting the brain. Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia and accounts for about 70% of all persons who have dementia. Vascular dementia is the second most common type and accounts for about 20%.

Vascular dementia has to do with blood vessels to the brain and blood flow to the brain. If blood flow is restricted due to blockages in the blood vessels, it can cause damage to brain cells resulting in vascular dementia.

Vascular dementia is often caused by a stroke from either small or large blockages.

What is the difference between Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia?

A key difference between Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia is that Alzheimer’s typically develops gradually over time. With vascular dementia, there are often step like changes that can be very distinct as a result of a stroke. I can recall specific moments in time when there were changes in my dad’s behaviour or when I noticed some of the warning signs. Although he never had a significant stroke, he must have had vascular events that caused the changes and caused vascular dementia.

Is there anything that can be done to help prevent vascular dementia?

Yes, there are some steps you can take to help reduce your risk of vascular dementia and those steps have to do with your lifestyle and keeping your heart healthy. What’s good for your heart is good for your brain.

  • Maintain a healthy blood pressure
  • Keep your blood cholesterol under control
  • Exercise
  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Don’t smoke

These are all risk factors that you can control that may help reduce your risk of vascular dementia.

Why did you become a Certified Positive Approach to Care trainer?

About a year after my dad was diagnosed, I heard about Teepa Snow and that she would be speaking at the Alzheimer Society awareness breakfast in Halifax. I didn’t know a lot about her but I was curious so I went. Well, am I ever glad that I did because that morning changed my life. The information that she shared made so much sense and was very practical. I went to see my dad right after the breakfast and I immediately realized that her tips really worked!

I was hooked from that day on and within about six months I went to North Carolina to become a Certified Positive Approach to Care Trainer because I really wanted other people in my shoes caring for a parent with dementia to benefit from Positive Approach to Care.

How did the training help you on a personal level?

It helped to reduce the stress and frustration that I was feeling. I understood what was going on and it took away the mystery of why my dad did certain things or had certain behaviors.

It gave me the knowledge as well as practical skills like Hand-under-Hand that I could use to improve quality of life for my dad.

What advice do you have for adult children caring for their parents with dementia?

Be willing to learn about the condition because knowledge helps. Also be willing to develop new skills because dementia care does require a certain skill set.

If there are several siblings involved, communicate frequently and create a plan for what each person can do to help care for your parent. It’s too much for one person to take on by yourself.

What’s coming up with Earth Angels Home Care? Where can people learn more about Positive Approach to Care?

As the leader in dementia care, Earth Angels Home Care is offering a free Positive Approach to Care workshop for families, friends, and anyone who’s interested in learning more about dementia.

In the workshop, you’ll learn about brain changes and practical tips and you’ll get to practice Hand- under-Hand.

Most importantly, it’s also an opportunity to get your questions answered. If you have any burning questions, bring them along and Tamara will be happy to answer them for you.

The workshop is on Thursday, April 18 at 7 pm here in the boardroom of this building, The Medical Arts Building at 42 Glen Allan Dr. in Bridgewater.

For more information about the workshop or the services we provide call Tamara at 902.530-6205 (Bridgewater) or Catherine at 902-893-3553 (Truro).

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