I appreciate that many of you who have been kindly following the blog for a long time will have seen this post before. However, if you are new to Smorgasbord, I hope you will find interesting.
The Brain – Part Three – Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease
Dementia is actually a collective name for progressive degenerative brain diseases, which affect our memory, thought, behaviour and emotions. It is not a normal result of ageing and it does not seem to have any specific social, economic, ethnic or geographical links. It can effect different people in different ways, which makes it difficult sometimes to diagnose and to treat.
Certain dementia, such as vascular dementia, where plaque is blocking the blood vessels in the brain are linked to lifestyle related causes such as heavy alcohol consumption. Most dementia is likely to have an element of environmental, diet or lifestyle involved in its development.
There is no known cure, but there are ways that we can modify our lifestyle to reduce our risks of brain degeneration and to slow down any process that has already begun.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia and accounts for around 60% of all cases. The disease is degenerative over a period of years and destroys brain cells and nerve cells causing a disruption to the transmitters, which carry messages in the brain, particularly those that are responsible for our memories.
As the disease progresses, the brain shrinks and gaps develop in the temporal lobe and hippocampus. These areas are responsible for storing and retrieving new information. The damage results in a reduction in a person’s ability to remember events that happened in the short term, to speak, think and to make decisions. All this is both frightening and confusing, as a person will be aware of these lapses in the early stages of the condition.
What are the symptoms of Alzheimer’s
In the beginning, there may be infrequent lapses in memory, forgetting where keys have been left or perhaps failing to switch off electric cookers or other equipment. A person will start to forget the names of everyday objects or people that they are usually very familiar with. They can also suffer from mood swings and panic attacks.
As the disease progresses these symptoms worsen and there is an element of confusion over completing every day tasks such as shopping, cooking and more dangerously driving.
The changes in personality are often attributable to fear and the awareness that something is very wrong. In the earlier stages people tend to try and hide the symptoms. This happens because, much of the time, they will be aware that there is a problem and will not want to accept that this could be as serious a condition as dementia.
In the advanced stages it is not only extremely stressful for the person concerned but also very distressing for their immediate family. We have experience of the problem with a close family friend who was in his 80’s and was looking after his wife who had Alzheimer’s for two years before she went into a home. At that point he was no longer able to cope. She was in danger of hurting herself as she was wandering off in the middle of the night, falling over and hurting herself as well as becoming terrified and disorientated. My own mother in the last two years of her life became increasingly confused but she was nearly 95 when she died. She had family and remained in her own home but for future millions who perhaps have not surviving family it will be a challenge for them and the care services.