What is dementia? Here are some simple concepts to start with:
- The brain does three very important things. Each of these is impacted when a person develops dementia.
- The brain can be thought of as an amazing, living super computer.
- Dementia is a general term for diseases that injure the brain over time. An old brain is not the same as an injured brain.
Three Important Things a Brain Does
- The first moments of life are unforgettable. A baby is born and starts crying. From that moment forward, the brain will experience a lifetime of emotions. The
brain is emotional. That is the first important thing a brain does. It feels and expresses emotions.
- In the hours, days and years after birth, the brain will see, hear, learn about, and remember the world. The brain will recognize people, learn languages, figure things out and imagine. These are examples of the second thing a brain does. It is also what most people think a brain does: It learns, remembers, and thinks.
- Lastly, only in the days and months after a baby is born does the brain start to realize its third amazing capacity. The brain controls the arms, legs, and body. In the first year, babies gradually learn how to walk. The brain is the computer that runs the human body machine.
The Brain Can Be Thought of as a Living Super Computer
When a person is born, the brain is like a brand-new computer. It has a small amount of stored information but collects new information very quickly. Day by day, over the years and in an entire lifetime, the brain will store more information. The brain is like a computer that is used every day.
The brain changes every year. A young brain is great at storing new information. As people grow into adults, the brain manages the information that has accumulated. Knowledge and abilities increase. In older age, the brain has learned lifelong lessons and has developed a strong identity and rules to live by. But the brain is not an ordinary computer. It is amazing, super, and alive. In youth, it is very quick. In adulthood, it is highly skilled. In older age, it is slower but frequently becomes wise. At every stage, emotions, thought processes, and physical abilities change.
Dementia is Different From an Old Brain
An injured brain is different from an aging brain. Strokes are an example of brain injury. Various parts of the brain are responsible for different tasks. Damage to one part of the brain causes weakness in the arm, leg or face. Damage to another part of the brain can cause difficulty with speech.
Dementia is a general term for diseases that injure the brain over time. It causes tiny spots of damage in many parts of the brain. As the spots spread and get larger, injury becomes noticeable. In addition, the complex wiring and circuitry that carries information across brain cells becomes severely damaged. The result is a brain that does not work correctly. It becomes slow and makes major mistakes. Problems that appear depend on the location of the injury.
Alzheimer’s Disease is the most common type of dementia. A specific part of the brain (hippocampus) is damaged early in this disease. The hippocampus is important to store new information. As a result, people with mild Alzheimer’s Disease have a hard time remembering new information and events. However, they often remember things that happened long ago.
As Alzheimer’s Disease progresses, it becomes much more than just a problem with memory. Other problems occur when different parts of the brain become injured. Remember the three important things that a brain does? All become affected as the disease progresses. Behavior and emotions can be affected. Overall thinking ability is less. Balance and coordination decline.
In a recent talk about dementia, people asked what kind of behavioral and personality changes can occur in dementia. In my next post, I'll talk about one problem that isn't usually mentioned: apathy, a loss of interest in doing things.