Alzheimer’s Dementia

By on April 15, 2013

 What is Alzheimer’s Dementia?alzheimer's dementia

Memory loss, changes in personality and cognitive impairment caused by Alzheimer’s dementia is the most common type of dementia affecting people who are over 65 years old. While some memory problems and intellectual decline are an expected part of the aging process, cognitive and behavioral changes that negatively affect daily activities, family and social relationships, and the ability to lead an independent life are not normal.

Research performed a decade ago indicated that the brain started shrinking and losing it ability to function optimally after the age of 30. However, recent studies have found this information to be lacking in validity due to researchers failing to apply regression analysis to subjects used in such studies. In other words, they did not take into account that many of these subjects may have been suffering from early Alzheimer’s dementia, which would have skewed the results and produced erroneous information about the affects of aging on the brain.

Brain Plasticity

 The ability of the brain to alter its neuronal connections, structure and neurotransmitter content in response to repeated, diverse stimulation is nothing short than astounding. Technically, the brain is capable of three kinds of plasticity:  neurogenesis, functional compensatory processing and synaptic plasticity.

All three of these abilities are affected when Alzheimer’s disease starts deteriorating the white matter constituting the cognitive aspect of a person’s brain. The disruption caused by the “plaques and tangles” that attack and devastate neurons prevents the brain from gaining any further benefits acquired by consistent intellectual and social stimulation.

Living With Alzheimers The old phrase “use it or lose it” applies strongly to the brain and to slowing the development of Alzheimer’s dementia. Every time we learn something we never knew before, such as how to recognize a certain bird species or how to say “I would like the steak dinner” in Chinese, new connections form among neurons that enhance the brain’s functioning.

For example, when learning to recall the name of a type of bird, the brain’s visual cortex neurons will take note of its color patterns while neurons in the auditory cortex will encode its particular song. Alternately, neurons in the language processing areas (Wernicke’s and Broca’s in the cerebral cortex) develop new connections when learning to speak a foreign language.

This synaptic plasticity is the foundation of the brain’s dazzling ability to remain functional even into advanced old age. By conducting longitudinal aging studies on individuals with familial histories of Alzheimer’s disease, researchers have discovered strong evidence pointing to the benefits of engaging in regular intellectual stimulation to maintain brain plasticity and neurogenesis.

Growing Neurons

 Once thought to happen only in developing, immature organisms, neurogenesis, or the creation of new neurons, has been demonstrated to continue occuring throughout the natural life of most mammals, include humans and non-human primates. Neurologists have discovered that people who remain active both physically and mentally past the age of 40 provide enough stimulation for consistent neurogenesis to occur, two highly effective techniques that may prevent or slow the progression of Alzheimer’s dementia.

 Functional Compensatory Plasticity

This term refers to the ability of cognitively nimble senior citizens to perform just as well on mental assessment tests as younger adults due to accessing regions of the brain that “compensate” for other brain areas affected by age-related deficiencies. Brain imaging studies found that older brains reach solutions to a variety of problems by activating different neural connections lying in both hemispheres of the brain rather than just one, which is commonly seen in younger brains confronted with the same problems.

Warning Signs of Alzheimer’s Dementiaupload

Memory impairment is usually the first symptom affecting an AD patient. Incidences of misplacing items, forgetting everyday words, and heightened irritability with others who question their mistakes may slowly develop over a period of several years. Understanding abstract concepts, loss of good judgment and reasoning abilities begins to decline as well. Patients may tell the same story over and over again, become disoriented when placed in unfamiliar surroundings and start to make glaring errors in paying bills or performing everyday tasks.

Personality and behavioral changes that deviate from the person’s usual demeanor noticeably begins to appear. Periods of agitation and anxiety may affect the person for no apparent reason. They often neglect personal hygiene because they cannot recall what to do with a toothbrush or hairbrush. Depression and apathy provoked by the realization that something is wrong with their brain further exacerbates the desire to care about appearances.

 Advanced stages of Alzheimer’s dementia is indicated when a patient starts suffering from aggressive paranoia, delusions, hallucinations, severe problems with verbal communication and incontinence. At this point, the brain is clogged with plaques and tangles, and cell death is rampant. In addition, enlarged ventricles are applying extreme pressure on various parts of the brain, reducing blood flow and severely restricting the brain’s access to oxygen. Initiation of 24-hour care will be necessary when these symptoms start to occur as it is no longer safe for the patient to remain living independently.

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