There are many reasons that people can start to lose their balance as they get older. Often, these causes can be linked back to the brain. In some cases, disorders of the brain that have progressed quite far can cause a loss of balance. However, some early stage diseases can also cause a loss of balance.
Dementia can cause poor balance at several stages. Dementia is actually a set of symptoms that can be caused by several different disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, dementia with Lewy bodies, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, and many other kinds.
Although Alzheimer’s disease is a memory and thinking disorder, it can actually interfere with a person’s balance. These problems become more commonplace as the disease progresses, but many people do not link these two problems together, which is why vascular dementia can actually go untreated for a long time.
What is vascular dementia?
Vascular dementia is the second most common cause of dementia in the UK. However, because it is not as well-known as Alzheimer’s disease, it often goes unrecognized.
Vascular dementia affects the brain differently to traditional Alzheimer’s. In Alzheimer’s, the nerve cells in the brain break down, causing people to have problems with memory and thinking. In vascular dementia, parts of the brain don’t get enough blood carrying oxygen and nutrients, so it causes the cells to not be able to function properly.
What causes vascular dementia?
If blood carrying nutrients and oxygen cannot reach the brain, this can cause vascular dementia. Typically, this is because the vessels are blocked or narrowed. This can be the result of a stroke, although this isn’t always the case. Strokes take place when the supply of blood carrying oxygen to the brain is suddenly cut off – however not all people with strokes will develop vascular dementia.
“Silent” strokes can also cause vascular dementia, especially as they build up over time. In many cases, vascular dementia will only be discovered in patients after the impact of several strokes has added up to a major disability.
What is the difference between loss of balance from vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s?
Typically, a loss of balance will be a sign of late-stage Alzheimer’s disease. However, if older people have trouble balancing but do not exhibit signs of memory loss, or any early signs of dementia, then this loss of balance can be attributed to vascular dementia.
Typically, balance problems are exhibited when disease affects the structures at the back of the brain – the cerebellum – but impaired balance can have many causes.
Catching the disease early helps to limit the impact and severity, but requires a knowledge of the risk factors and symptoms. If you suspect that either you or someone you know has vascular dementia, you should talk with a doctor.
If you have poor balance and need to make reasonable adjustments in your home, we can help. Our walk-in showers and walk-in baths give you ease of accessibility, allowing you to retain your independence.