Dementia is defined by the Alzheimer’s Association as a general term for the decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with your daily life. While Dementia is commonly used interchangeably with Alzheimer’s, they have very different meanings. Dementia is more of a blanket term that covers a wide variety of symptoms and is not a specific disease. Dementia typically includes symptoms such as memory loss, reasoning impairment or the decline in other cognitive skills.
Alzheimer’s on the other hand is a specific brain disease, or a type of dementia. This disease is irreversible and progressive. This disease slowly destroys memory and thinking skills and eventually the ability to carry out day to day tasks. Because both Alzheimer’s and Dementia are linked to memory loss, it has led to deeper studies on the exact impacts that take place with the brain.
How the Brain is Designed to Work
Before we can explore how dementia impacts the brain, we must have a clear understanding of how our brain is supposed to function. Our brains process information received from nerve cells throughout the body and transmit the appropriate responses back to the body. These billions of nerve cells are what allow us to coordinate thought, emotion, behavior, movement and sensation. All of the parts of our brain work together yet are responsible for their own specific function. When damage is caused to these brain nerve cells, it interferes with their ability to communicate with each other, making what used to be easy tasks extremely difficult.
What does Alzheimer’s & Dementia do to the brain?
Despite what some believe, Dementia is not a normal part of our aging process. Dementia is caused by damage to brain cells mentioned above. This affects not only our cognitive thinking abilities but also directly impacts our behavior and feelings. Because Alzheimer’s accounts for 60-80% of Dementia cases, we will place our focus there for the remainder of this article.
Alzheimer’s disease has a widespread effect on the brain as it disrupts processes vital to neurons and their networks. Unfortunately, scientists have revealed that complex changes to the brain begin long before (a decade or more) memory and other cognitive problems appear. During this time, it is likely that you are symptom free, but abnormal deposits of proteins from amyloid plaques are building up throughout the brain. Overtime, this causes healthy functioning brain neurons to stop functioning, lose communication with the other neurons that make brain communication with the body possible and remove their ability to repair themselves, ultimately leading the neurons to die. The damage will typically start in the learning part of the brain, interfering with your ability to retain new information. The next target is the hippocampus and the entorhinal cortex which are parts of the brain that are crucial in the forming of memories. As more neurons begin to die, the other areas of the brain are also affected and cause the brain to shrink.
While there is currently no known cure, there are things that can be done to slow the impacts Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia have on the brain. Some of these include things like medication management, diet, social interaction, mental exercises, and physical exercises. For more information on each of these options and some suggested stimulating activities for Alzheimer’s and Dementia patients view our blog post “Tools for Alzheimer’s Disease”.
If you have any additional questions or have a loved one who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or Dementia, Camelot Senior Living would be honored to sit down and discuss the path ahead with you. If there comes a point where your loved one is no longer able to safely live an independent life, there are wonderful long- term care and assisted living options available to maintain the overall quality of life for your loved one. Contact Camelot today to learn more.