Healthwatch: Understanding Dementia

There is no cure for vascular dementia, which affects 39 percent of people over age 65.

Wayne Banks, 71, takes center stage, rehearsing for a play. But in real life Wayne struggles with vascular dementia, a decline in thinking ability brought on by a stroke or multiple strokes.

Wayne's wife, Deanie, remembers the day doctors told her about her husband's condition.

"And it was, 'Oh my, what happens?'" Deanie asked.

In vascular dementia, brain cells have trouble working together because of damage from a stroke or brain attack.

"They lose their ability to process things mentally," said Dr. Don B. Smith of the National Stroke Association. "That is, they lose their ability to remember."

"Some days it gets to the point where I can't remember from one minute to the next what I was doing," said Banks.

Now a new study of 600 patients shows the first promising treatment for vascular dementia.

Researchers say the drug Aricept may improve a patient's thinking ability by helping undamaged cells work together better.

Aricept prevents the breakdown of a brain chemical called acetylcholine, which is involved in learning and memory.

"I really see it as the very first step toward trying to do something about the problem of vascular dementia," said Smith.

The National Stroke Association wants stroke survivors and their caregivers to ask their doctor about vascular dementia if they notice memory loss, confusion or impaired judgment after a stroke.

Wayne and Deanie have been married now for 24 years. Though their lives have changed forever, they remain optimistic.

"He's still here," said Deanie. "We've been told that this dementia won't get better but maybe hopefully it can."


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