Managing Dementia

As we grow older, dementia is something we typically encounter. Dementia is a neurodegenerative disease that is progressive and irreversible. Dementia involves alterations in the brain which has an impact on various cognitive abilities as the neurons which transmit signals within the brain and body is prevented from working resulting in limited memory, language skills, visual perception and more. 

1) Alzheimer’s disease
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common in which is typically a late-onset type disease that occurs in the mid-60s where there can be abnormal clumps of plaques and tangles of fiber. The nerve cells ability to transmit signals slowly deteriorate impacting the hippocampus. The hippocampus is an important part of the brain used to formulate learning and develop memories. As more neurons die, it affects more parts of the brain and closer to the final stages results in the brain tissues to shrink.

2) Lewy Body Dementia (LBD)
LBD is a disease that has abnormal deposits of a protein called alpha-synuclein in the brain. When these deposits occur, they form Lewy bodies in which its chemicals changes affect an individual’s thinking, movement, behaviour and mood throughout a day. There are 2 forms of LBD which are dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB) or Parkinson’s disease dementia. In LBD, the alpha-synuclein forms clumps within neurons that can affect memory and movement and various parts of the brain used for information processing, emotions, bodily movements and more.  

3) Vascular Dementia
As progressive loss of memory is part of vascular dementia, it occurs due to a vascular injury or disease within the brain. Compared to Alzheimer’s disease, there are more challenges with organization, attention and slowed thinking while in Alzheimer’s memory loss is a significant condition. Some of the risk factors associated with cerebrovascular disease (e.g. stroke) include irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol.  Sometimes the symptoms can be sudden or can be progressive over the individual’s lifetime.

4) Frontotemporal Dementia 
If there is damage to the neurons in the brain’s frontal and temporal lobe it can lead to the brain to shrink. When there is damage in the frontal lobe it impairs executive functioning such as planning, prioritizing, multitasking and correcting errors. The frontal lobe helps us to make decisions on a daily basis. If there is damage within the temporal lobe, it can have an effect on memory, language and emotions. This function allows people to communicate with others as they would be able to read and write and understand the meaning behind what is being indicated. 

Overall, despite the various forms of dementia, there is no specific way to diagnose if someone has dementia or a way to treat it directly. Typically, doctors will look through the patient’s medical history, physical examinations and laboratory tests to see whether one may be affected by dementia. In order to help some patients with the symptoms, doctors may prescribe medication such as acetylcholine for supporting memory or to help improve different systems depending on the symptoms the individual has. 

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Written by: Shenen Sivakumar

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