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What is Multi-Infarct Dementia?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 12 September 2016
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Patients with multi-infarct dementia have progressive brain damage resulting from multiple strokes. As strokes continue, brain damage worsens, resulting in a pronounced decline in mental abilities. Many of the strokes aren’t large enough to be noticed, which results in a lack of medical attention. Each small or large stroke stops blood from fully oxygenating brain tissues, which damages the brain, causing increasing dementia symptoms like memory loss, confusion, and mood changes. When diagnosed, the disease may be treated with medicines to prevent future strokes, though this isn’t always successful; brain damage is usually not reparable.

Those most likely to suffer from multi-infarct dementia are males over the age of 65, but the condition can occur earlier and can affect women. People at risk for this illness are usually those with high risk for stroke and these include people with high blood pressure, with atherosclerosis (narrowing and hardening of the arteries), and with lifelong smoking habits. Suffering multiple strokes and progressive brain damage is a relatively common cause of dementia symptoms and up to 20% of dementia cases are thought to result from this disease.

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As mentioned, strokes may not be noticed, or a patient could have a large stroke, which is noticed and then several small strokes that aren’t. The condition might be first diagnosed by the presence of dementia symptoms. A patient could have progressive memory loss, changes in personality, loss of language facility, depression, difficulty performing ordinary tasks like dressing and eating, changes to ability to move fluidly, and as dementia worsens, things like withdrawal from social activities, high levels of confusion, and increasing signs of mental distress.

When these symptoms are present, doctors might suspect multi-infarct dementia if the person is at high risk for stroke. Once doctors have this suspicion, they can confirm the presence of this disease with neurological testing, computerized tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, and blood testing that rules out other potential dementia causes. Despite ways to evaluate patients for multi-infarct dementia, many cases are dismissed as Alzheimer’s until continued strokes create more damage.

If a proper diagnosis of multi-infarct dementia is made, the illness is addressed in several ways. Medications are given to reduce continued strokes, though these are not always fully effective. Some medications are employed to deal with some of the symptoms of dementia, and these could include antidepressants. Regaining memory or full mental facility is not generally possible and damage may continue to accrue if strokes continue. Still, it may be useful to offer rehabilitative therapy to improve function.

Sadly, many people with multi-infarct dementia become so impaired they require lifelong care, and since strokes aren’t always stopped, risk of death due to massive brain injury increases. Supportive and rehabilitative care is useful, but since the disease can be devastating, people are advised to attempt to avoid the condition by lowering risk factors for stroke. Early treatment of hypertension and avoiding behaviors like smoking are strongly recommended.

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