What's the difference between vascular dementia and Alzheimer's disease?

Dr. Stephen T. Chen, MD
Geriatric Medicine Specialist

Vascular dementia and Alzheimer's disease are both types of dementia, but they have several differences.

Vascular dementia occurs when large or small strokes cause damage or dysfunction in parts of the brain. Symptoms typically occur suddenly or abruptly and then decline rapidly (in a step-wise fashion).

Alzheimer's disease is a problem with the actual brain cells and tissue that lies between those cells. Alzheimer’s symptoms tend to slowly occur over time.

Vascular dementia and Alzheimer's disease both cause memory loss. However, the type of memory loss may differ, particularly in the earliest stages of disease. Memory loss related to Alzheimer’s disease may include trouble remembering words or events, even when provided clues.

People with vascular dementia can store a memory, but have difficulty recalling it. During diagnosis, a doctor might give a person three words to remember. Someone with vascular dementia will have difficulty remembering the words. However, when given a hint, the person will often be able to retrieve the words.

Both types of dementia are associated with psychiatric symptoms, including depression, apathy, anxiety and agitation. Depression tends to be more common in vascular dementia.  People with Alzheimer's disease are more likely to have apathy or a lack of motivation.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.