Forgetfulness and dementia
Memory is the most important cognitive functions of the human brain. Intelligence, learning, communication, problem solving; all require an intact memory. For years together, our brain learns and retains new concepts and uses stored information to solve problems. And then one day, after many years, this ability declines and we begin to forget what we once knew. Dementia is a brain disorder in which one cannot remember what was learnt in the past and also, is unable to retain new information. It is well understood as a deterioration of the memory, intellect, as well as personality; and manifests as complete transformation of behaviour, demeanour and thinking.
How it all begins
Dementia comes to notice when small changes appear in the person’s daily routine. People with dementia ask the same question again and again and do not realize they have asked it before. They eat food and within an hour may ask for a meal again, they forget simple words and tend to substitute them with a similar sounding or wrong word; they get lost in their own street and cannot get back home once they’ve gone out. They misplace things, become distractible and moody, irritable, suspicious or even fearful. Eventually they lose drive, become passive and may refuse to go out at all.
Dementia is a neurological disorder wherein the nerve cells in the brain are progressively damaged, predominantly the ones that produce the memory chemical called ‘acetylcholine’. These are located in a portion called the ‘hippocampus’. Other neurochemicals are also involved. There are varieties of dementia in which different areas of the brain are involved. There are features common to all these conditions with differences depending on the area of brain involved. Some deteriorate rapidly while others progressively worsen over the years.
It is difficult to predict who will develop dementia, in what severity and when. The dictum: ‘the more you use it lesser you lose it’, implies that active utilization of the brain cells prevents them form degenerating. Those who read avidly and work on mind games, math tasks and puzzles; slow their chances of developing dementia. Alzheimer’s can surface as early as 35 years of age. It remains a quandary to identify the cause. Dementia is destruction of the brain cells. Thus any injury to the head, a paralytic stroke, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s chorea and brain infections are all associated with dementia. With the continued loss of brain cells the other functions of the brain also get affected. Self care, feeding, bathing, going to the bathroom, everything soon requires support. It exerts pressure on family members and caring for such a person becomes extremely demanding and stressful for the caregivers.
Dementia and Pseudo-dementia
Sometimes one may complain of forgetfulness, which may be totally unrelated to dementia. Pseudo-dementia can masquerade as true dementia. In these cases patients give more negative answers (I don’t know, I don’t remember, I cant recall etc.) unlike true dementia where one responds affirmatively with the wrong answer and insists that it is appropriate. Pseudo-dementia is essentially an altered presentation of depression where one loses drive and becomes inattentive though the ability to retain information is intact. It gets better and memory is back on track once depression is alleviated.
Prevention Detection Intervention
At MINDFRAMES we have conducted special screening camps for geriatric individuals to identify symptoms of early cognitive decline in senior citizens. Medication and counseling sessions are provided for senior citizens individually as well as in groups. Caregivers are given information on the illness, how to cope positively with the situation without getting too stressed; and assure the best quality of life for the patient.