The Alzheimer’s Brain
How Alzheimer’s affects brain functions and cognition
The human brain weighs only about three pounds, yet it consumes 20 percent of the energy that our bodies expend. It has been called the most complex structure in the known universe, but it is fragile. Trauma from without and from within can damage this organ and impair its functioning. When that damage makes it difficult to care for oneself, when the tasks of daily living become impaired, c we call it dementia. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia, accounting for as much as 70 – 80% of all cases. Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease; it moves from one part of the brain to another in a fairly predictable pattern. The damage done to different areas in the Alzheimer’s brain is what causes the familiar symptoms of the disease. The path that the progression takes through the brain give us the stages of the disease.
We are often asked, “Is dementia part of the normal aging process?”
Age is the number one factor influencing the development of dementia, so the confusion is understandable. Adding to the confusion are those senior moments, when an older gentleman, for example, can’t remember where he left his keys. He usually finds them soon enough and that minor, annoying forgetfulness can be a normal part of aging. Having his keys in his hand and forgetting what they are for is not normal and might be an indication of something more serious.
Our senses also suffer from the process of aging. As we get older our eyes don’t see as far or as clearly as they used to, or without the light being bright. Hearing, taste, our sense of smell; all of our senses become less acute as we grow older. This is the normal wear and tear that years of use bestow upon our sense organs (as well as on the rest of our body). A person with dementia is most likely older and probably experiences the same age-related deterioration, but in addition the disease is damaging the brain in areas that affect perception. A sensory signal might be getting to the brain, but if the Alzheimer’s brain isn’t processing the signal it can be very difficult to make sense of the world. Perceptual problems caused by dementia are much more pronounced than perceptual problems that result only from the aging process.
So, no! Although dementia seems to be getting more common with time, dementia is not a part of the normal aging process.
Another area of confusion is how exactly dementia affects the brain and behavior. Everyone knows that Alzheimer’s disease causes memory problems, but there is much more. Different types of dementia (there are more than 100) affect the brain differently. Many, including Alzheimer’s will eventually affect virtually every part of the brain and every brain function.
Our senses also suffer from the process of aging. As we get older our eyes don’t see as far or as clearly as they used to, or without the light being bright. Hearing, taste, our sense of smell; all of our senses become less acute as we grow older. This is the normal wear and tear that years of use bestow upon our sense organs (as well as on the rest of our body). A person with dementia is most likely older and probably experiences the same age-related deterioration, but in addition the disease is damaging the brain, and that affects perception. A sensory signal might be getting to the brain, but if the brain isn’t processing the signal it can be very difficult to make sense of the world.
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