Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease and Vascular Dementia

Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia are progressive disorders. This means that the changes in mental abilities, mood, personality, and the behavior they cause are gradual and tend to get worse over time. Exactly how quickly these dementias progress varies from person to person. The symptoms of vascular dementia usually worsen when a person has another “mini-stroke” or develops a new blockage that limits blood flow to a specific part of the brain.

Memory loss is usually the first and most noticeable symptom of Alzheimer’s disease. With vascular dementia, symptoms depend on where a blockage forms. In addition to the most common symptoms, mini-strokes (TIAs) and blockages may cause vision loss, hearing loss, and paralysis on one side of the body.

Common symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia include increasing confusion and growing difficulty with many activities of daily living.

Problems early on

  • Remembering. People with early Alzheimer’s disease may only occasionally have trouble remembering names, words, or where they put things. This is different from advanced dementia, when the patient may no longer recognize people they are close to.
  • Paying attention.
  • Carrying out daily tasks such as shopping, cooking, or taking medications.
  • Using and understanding language.  This is not as severe as advanced Alzheimer’s disease, where people may lose the ability to participate in a conversation.
  • Making decisions, planning, and getting organized.
  • Finding their way from one once-familiar place to another.

Problems later on

  • Walking. People with dementia have a high risk of falls. These can cause serious or life-threatening injuries.
  • Taking care of oneself, including dressing, bathing, and eventually, eating.
  • Controlling their bowels and bladder.

Behavioral problems

Along with changes in mental abilities, almost 50% of people with Alzheimer’s disease or vascular dementia may exhibit “behavioral symptoms of dementia,” such as:

  • Changes in mood, such as becoming more agitated, anxious, or depressed.
  • Seeming drained of energy, or as though they don’t care.
  • Changes in behavior, such as becoming more aggressive or behaving inappropriately. Aggressive behavior may range from cursing and spitting to physical attacks.
  • Wandering or asking to “go home” when they are home.
  • Having hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that aren’t there) or delusions (false beliefs, such as the belief that a family member, friend, or caregiver is trying to hurt them or is stealing from them).

These behavioral symptoms can be more upsetting for both older adults with dementia and their caregivers than other symptoms of dementia, such as memory loss.

In general, the more severe the symptoms of dementia, the shorter a person’s life expectancy is likely to be. Wandering, falling, loss of bladder control, and behavioral problems such as agitation and hallucinations are linked to a shorter life expectancy.

rapid decline in mental abilities, judgment, and behavior that occurs within just a few hours or days may be a sign of delirium or another health problem that needs immediate attention.

Contact a healthcare professional immediately if this happens.


Last Updated July 2020