Binswanger's disease (BD), also called subcortical vascular dementia, is a type of dementia caused by widespread, microscopic areas of damage to the deep layers of white matter in the brain. The damage is the result of the thickening and narrowing (atherosclerosis) of arteries that feed the subcortical areas of the brain. Atherosclerosis (commonly known as "hardening of the arteries") is a systemic process that affects blood vessels throughout the body. It begins late in the fourth decade of life and increases in severity with age. As the arteries become more and more narrowed, the blood supplied by those arteries decreases and brain tissue dies. A characteristic pattern of BD-damaged brain tissue can be seen with modern brain imaging techniques such as CT scans or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The symptoms associated with BD are related to the disruption of subcortical neural circuits that control what neuroscientists call executive cognitive functioning: short-term memory, organization, mood, the regulation of attention, the ability to act or make decisions, and appropriate behavior. The most characteristic feature of BD is psychomotor slowness - an increase in the length of time it takes, for example, for the fingers to turn the thought of a letter into the shape of a letter on a piece of paper. Other symptoms include forgetfulness (but not as severe as the forgetfulness of Alzheimer's disease), changes in speech, an unsteady gait, clumsiness or frequent falls, changes in personality or mood (most likely in the form of apathy, irritability, and depression), and urinary symptoms that aren't caused by urological disease. Brain imaging, which reveals the characteristic brain lesions of BD, is essential for a positive diagnosis.
There is no specific course of treatment for BD. Treatment is symptomatic. People with depression or anxiety may require antidepressant medications such as the serotonin-specific reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) sertraline or citalopram. Atypical antipsychotic drugs, such as risperidone and olanzapine, can be useful in individuals with agitation and disruptive behavior. Recent drug trials with the drug memantine have shown improved cognition and stabilization of global functioning and behavior. The successful management of hypertension and diabetes can slow the progression of atherosclerosis, and subsequently slow the progress of BD. Because there is no cure, the best treatment is preventive, early in the adult years, by controlling risk factors such as hypertension, diabetes, and smoking.
BD is a progressive disease; there is no cure. Changes may be sudden or gradual and then progress in a stepwise manner. BD can often coexist with Alzheimer's disease. Behaviors that slow the progression of high blood pressure, diabetes, and atherosclerosis -- such as eating a healthy diet and keeping healthy wake/sleep schedules, exercising, and not smoking or drinking too much alcohol -- can also slow the progression of BD.
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) conducts research related to BD in its laboratories at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and also supports additional research through grants to major medical institutions across the country. Much of this research focuses on finding better ways to prevent, treat, and ultimately cure neurological disorders, such as BD.
View a list of studies currently seeking patients.
View more studies on this condition.
Alzheimer's Disease Education
and Referral Center (ADEAR)
National Institute on Aging
P.O. Box 8250
Silver Spring, MD 20907-8250
American Heart Association
National voluntary health agency whose mission is to reduce disability and death from cardiovascular diseases and stroke.
7272 Greenville Avenue
Dallas, TX 75231-4596
Tel: 800-AHA-USA1 (242-8721)
National Stroke Association
National non-profit organization that offers education, services and community-based activities in prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and recovery. Serves the public and professional communities, people at risk, patients and their health care providers, stroke survivors, and their families and caregivers.
9707 East Easter Lane
Centennial, CO 80112-3747
National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD)
Federation of voluntary health organizations dedicated to helping people with rare "orphan" diseases and assisting the organizations that serve them. Committed to the identification, treatment, and cure of rare disorders through programs of education, advocacy, research, and service.
55 Kenosia Avenue
Danbury, CT 06810
Voice Mail 800-999-NORD (6673)
Family Caregiver Alliance/
National Center on Caregiving
Supports and assists families and caregivers of adults with debilitating health conditions. Offers programs and consultation on caregiving issues at local, state, and national levels. Offers free publications and support online, including a national directory of publicly funded caregiver support programs.
785 Market St.
San Francisco, CA 94103
National voluntary health organization committed to finding a cure for Alzheimer’s and helping those affected by the disease.
225 North Michigan Avenue
Chicago, IL 60601-7633
1-800-272-3900 (24-hour helpline)