Cholinesterase Inhibitors in the Treatment of Vascular Dementia

Chris MacKnight, MD, MSc, FRCPC, Division of Geriatric Medicine, Dalhousie University, Halifax, NS.

Vascular dementia is common, and currently there is no accepted therapy aimed at the cognitive symptoms. Prevention of further strokes is, of course, well established.1 Evidence is accumulating that the cholinesterase inhibitors, proven therapy in Alzheimer disease (AD), may also be of use in vascular dementia (VaD). This paper will summarize that evidence.

Epidemiology of Vascular Dementia
Vascular dementia can be diagnosed when there is a high degree of suspicion that cognitive impairment and stroke are related. Various criteria exist, which unfortunately do not overlap to any great extent, but all share several features.2 These include: the presence of stroke, either clinical or found on neuroimaging; the presence of focal neurologic signs, such as asymmetric power or a positive Babinski response; and a characteristic course, with a sudden onset or stepwise progression. For the highest degree of confidence in the diagnosis, a temporal relationship between the stroke and the dementia is required.

In most surveys of older adults, vascular dementia is the second most common cause of dementia in the community, after AD. In Canada, the prevalence of VaD is 1.5% in people 65 and over, and 5.1% for AD.3 Other surveys have found similar values.