What is Dementia?

With an ageing population we are often hearing about dementia, how to prevent it and how it has an effect on society.  Both my grandmothers have had dementia and so I thought it important to share some of the basics of the condition to help you all understand how it works a little better

Dementia itself is actually a bit of a blanket term for any condition that shuts down parts of the brain as it manifests. Sufferers will often lose their memory, cognitive ability and motor skills over the course of time. There are many different forms of dementia but the tow most common are Alzheimer’s Disease and Vascular Dementia.

Alzheimer’s is the most common. It was named after Alois Alzheimer, the doctor who first described the condition. Structures formed of protein build up inside and around the nerve cells of the brain, eventually killing the cells off and, over time, causing damage to the brain. Over time these proteins will become more prominent within the brain and more damage will be done causing more severe symptoms.

The chemical between neurotransmitters within the brain is also reduced meaning parts of the brain cannot communicate particularly well with each other. This can also cause more memory issues but also can cause behavioural issues.

The Hippocampus is normally the first part of the brain to be affected. The hippocampus is vital in the creation of new memories so people with the early onsets of Alzheimer’s will often have difficulty forming new memories.

Vascular dementia is also caused by damage to the nerves within the brain, however the damage here is caused by an insufficient blood supply. Basically the blood travelling around your brain pass through vessels. Sometimes these vessels will narrow and that means that blood cannot supply sections of the brain. In early stages this can cause difficulty in thinking. A person may not be able to think of a word or write it down.

If those vessels are blocked totally then blood will not be able to reach certain parts of the brain that will cause it to fail. These blockages are called strokes. Normally someone with this type vascular dementia will have a series of small strokes over the course of time. Their symptoms will level out and they will remain in a constant state for sometime until another stroke occurs and their symptoms get worse again. This is in contrast to Alzheimer’s where the symptoms just get progressively worse in a constant way rather than in steps.

Dementia like symptoms can be caused by one massive stroke however. This is called post stroke dementia.

I hope this has given you a little understanding on dementia. It is a topic I will most certainly be covering in more detail over the coming weeks.

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