Learn about the most common type of dementia, Alzheimer's Dementia, including its symptoms, causes, and ways to prevent or slow its progression. Discover the latest research on brain plasticity and the importance of regular intellectual stimulation in maintaining cognitive health.
What is Alzheimer’s Dementia?
Alzheimer’s dementia causes:
- Memory loss
- Changes in personality
- Cognitive impairment.
It is the most common type of dementia affecting people who are over 65 years old. Memory problems and intellectual decline are an expected part of the aging process. Cognitive and behavioral changes that affect… daily activities, family and social relationships, and the ability to lead an independent life, are not normal.
Old research believed the brain starts shrinking and losing it ability to function at its best, after the age of 30.
Recent studies have found this information to be lacking in validity. In the past, they did not take into account that many of subjects may have been suffering from early Alzheimer’s dementia. This would have skewed the results. It produced erroneous information about the effects of aging on the brain.
What is Brain Plasticity?
The way the brain works is nothing short of amazing.
The brain has the ability to alter its neuronal connections and transmit content in response to repeated, diverse stimulation.
The brain is capable of three kinds of plasticity:
- Functional compensatory processing
- Synaptic plasticity.
All three of these abilities are affected when Alzheimer’s disease starts deteriorating the white matter. Which constitutes the cognitive aspect of a person’s brain. The disruption is caused by the “plaques and tangles” attack and devastate neurons. This prevents the brain from making new connections. These are acquired by consistent intellectual and social stimulation.
The old phrase “use it or lose it” applies strongly to the brain. And to slowing the development of Alzheimer’s dementia.
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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.
When learning to recall the name of a type of bird:
The brain’s visual cortex neurons will take note of its color patterns. All the 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 ability to remain functional … even into advanced old age.
By conducting studies on individuals with familial histories of Alzheimer’s disease… researchers have discovered evidence that engaging in regular intellectual stimulation is important. It helps to maintain brain plasticity and neurogenesis.
Growing Neurons Can Delay or Prevent Dementia
The creation of new neurons has been demonstrated to continue throughout the natural life of… most mammals. Including humans and non-human primates. Neurologists now know that people who remain physically and mentally active… past the age of 40 , have enough stimulation for consistent neurogenesis to occur. Mental and physical exercise are highly effective techniques that may… prevent or slow the progression of Alzheimer’s dementia.
What is Functional Compensatory Plasticity?
This is a term that refers to the ability of mentally active senior to… perform well on mental assessment tests as younger adults.
This is due to accessing regions of the brain that “compensate” for other areas of the brain… affected by age-related deficiencies. Brain imaging studies have found that older brains reach solutions to a variety of problems …. by activating different neural connections. These occur in both hemispheres of the brain… rather than just one. This is commonly seen in younger brains confronted with the same problems.
Warning Signs of Alzheimer’s Dementia
Memory impairment is usually the first symptom affecting an AD patient.
- Incidences of misplacing items
- Forgetting everyday words
- Heightened irritability with others… who question their mistakes may slowly develop over a period of several years.
- Understanding abstract concepts
- Loss of good judgment
- Loss of reasoning abilities begins to decline as well.
Your family member 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 begins to appear.
Periods of agitation and anxiety may affect the person for no apparent reason.
They often neglect personal hygiene. This occurs because they cannot recall what to do with a toothbrush or hairbrush.
Depression and apathy occur. This is provoked by the realization that something is wrong with their brain. It further exacerbates the desire to care about appearances.
Advanced Stages of Alzheimer's Dementia
Advanced stages of Alzheimer’s dementia is indicated when:
- A patient starts suffering from aggressive paranoia
- Severe problems with verbal communication
At this point, the brain is clogged with plaques and tangles. Cell death is rampant.
Enlarged ventricles are applying extreme pressure on various parts of the brain. This reduces blood flow and severely restricting the brain’s access to oxygen. Initiation of 24-hour care will be necessary. When these symptoms occur it is no longer safe for the patient to remain living alone.
Middle Stage Alzheimer's Disease
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