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Friday, February 03, 2012
Dementia is much more than memory loss
From the Times Herald-Record:
"We were told he has Alzheimer's — now you are saying he has dementia."
Dementia is a general term for a brain disorder that has many causes. The two most common causes are Alzheimer's dementia and multi-infarct dementia. Alzheimer's is caused by the abnormal buildup of certain proteins in the brain. Multi-infarct dementia is the result of many tiny strokes over a number of years from high blood pressure or diabetes.
We are used to hearing about kidney, heart, liver failure and other organ failure. Dementia is brain failure.
Our brain gives us the ability to take care of ourselves and live independently. It receives information from all our senses, puts the information together instantly so that we can recognize what we see, hear, smell or feel and make the decisions necessary to remain alive.
It tells us when we are hungry or when we might be in danger. It allows us to interact with other people. Experiences starting at birth teach us language, how to behave, how to do things, what works or is helpful and what is not.
All of this is stored in the brain as memories. When we are in any situation, the brain pulls information from our senses and from memories and puts it together instantly so that we understand the situation and can make decisions. Dementia results when a disease process destroys normal brain tissue or interferes with the brain's ability to put information together or make new memories. As dementia progresses, the patient is slowly robbed of the ability to recognize situations and to make the decisions necessary to live as an independent person.
Dementia is much more than memory loss. Dementia ultimately robs a person of much of what made them the person he was, because the brain failure takes away one's ability to interact normally with the world and people around him.
Dementia is just as fatal as other organ failure. It is a terminal illness. There is no cure. It usually progresses slowly and is often not recognized by physicians and families until it is quite advanced.
On average, patients with Alzheimer's dementia will have had the disease for about eight years before a diagnosis is made.
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