Understanding Dementia and Alzheimer’s
Today, we’ll examine the signs and effects of memory decline.
Memory decline is a serious issue that will likely affect all of us in some way or another—whether our own memory begins to fade or our friends or loved ones suffer from diseases like Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia.
It’s important to understand that dementia and Alzheimer’s are not the same thing. Dementia is a term that describes a general decline in everyday living skills such as memory, planning, decision-making, and other thinking skills. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia.
60 to 80 percent of people with dementia have Alzheimer’s, and it can be a devastating condition. Essentially, Alzheimer’s begins to form proteins called plaques and tangles in your brain. These plaques and tangles start and spread into the hippocampus first. Then over time, they spread to other areas of the brain, impairing many core brain functions.
Because Alzheimer’s affects the hippocampus first, an early sign of Alzheimer’s includes difficulty remembering newly learned information—like the name of someone you just met or where you left your keys. As the disease progresses, it leads to increasingly severe symptoms and ultimately to death. There is no cure for Alzheimer’s. But there is evidence that practicing certain activities may help slow the progress of Alzheimer’s and stave off cognitive decline.
Faced with her father’s dementia, Dr. Wendy Suzuki has seen first-hand the effects of memory loss. At first she was scared, but she’s started to develop a new perspective. She says:
The big lesson that I’ve learned is not to let the fear of the condition get in the way of enjoying what can be experienced today. I think I spent too much time worrying about if I was doing all that I could for Dad, especially because I am an expert in brain science. But I realized that I’m better off, and my dad is better off, if I just spend that time and energy talking and interacting with my dad. I do that as much as I possibly can these days and don’t worry so much about how things will progress. And that feels a lot better for both of us.
Thus far, we’ve spent a lot of time exploring how the brain works. But we’re more than our brains—we also have bodies connected to our brains, and what we do with our bodies can play a huge role in how our brains work.
So for the remaining lessons, we’ll explore several ways to help cultivate our own mind-body connection—ways we can help increase brain function, improve our moods, and even help us manage stress.
Tomorrow, we’ll study how aerobic exercise might improve our learning, memory, and cognitive abilities.
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