What Dementia Does to the Brain

Dementia is a complex neurological condition. Although dementia and all its forms are not yet fully understood by medical research, it’s important for those dealing with the disease and caring for loved ones with dementia to learn as much as they can about what’s going on in their loved one’s brain. Knowing how the brain works and how the disease affects its functions can give caregivers valuable insight into their loved one’s condition and ultimately learn how to support them as best they can.

Jimmie Fay Griffin, Executive Director at Clarity Pointe™ Tallahassee, a memory care community in Tallahassee, Florida, understands the importance of learning about a loved one’s condition. “Dementia involves much more than memory loss alone,” says Griffin. “This disease brings with it a progression of challenging symptoms, including behavior challenges and personality changes, sleep issues and trouble thinking and speaking. Families need to be prepared to care for the wide range of cognitive disabilities their loved one will experience throughout the disease.”

Understanding the Basics

We don’t need to be experts in neuroscience to try to understand what dementia does to the brain. In this article, we will discuss what’s known so far about the disease and how it alters a person’s cognitive abilities, causing the symptoms that most commonly accompany its different forms.

The human brain is made up of various lobes or regions that control the different functions of living. While some parts of our brain are responsible for the automatic functions of our bodies (like breathing and blinking and digesting food), other parts control our executive functions, including our ability to think, remember, solve problems, register sensory information, make judgments, speak, control behavior and consider our emotions. These areas of the brain are most affected by dementia.

Understanding what happens biologically in the case of dementia can be difficult to comprehend. Hopefully as more research is conducted, we will better understand what causes the disease and how to stop it from progressing. For now, Alzheimer’s Research UK’s explanation of dementia can help us grasp what happens in the brain:

“Our brains have about 90 billion nerve cells. They are specialized in sending messages to each other. They allow us to sense and respond to the world around us. During dementia, cells lose the ability to communicate with each other and eventually die. This loss of nerve cells causes the symptoms of dementia.”

Research has discovered that proteins play a part in this nerve cell damage. Although proteins are a vital element of our bodies, they can cause damage when they build up in certain areas. With dementia, two specific proteins, called amyloid and tau, build up inside and around the nerve cells in the brain. However, scientists are discovering that different types of cognitive impairments are caused by the build-up of different proteins. As these proteins build up around the nerve cells, the cells become damaged and eventually die, causing an inability to perform some of the functions that the region’s cells were designed to do.

Still So Much to Learn

Research has yet to find the answers to many questions about the effects dementia has on the brain. We are still trying to understand what causes the proteins to build up in the brain’s nerve cells. Understanding this could help us develop ways to stop these build-ups from occurring and keep nerve cells safe from damage. Until more answers are found, the best we can do for our loved ones with dementia is manage their symptoms and provide the care they need to experience the best quality of life possible.

Caring for Unique Symptoms

As mentioned earlier, the symptoms of dementia occur from damage to specific regions of the brain in charge of those functions. To give an example of how nerve cell damage manifests as the symptoms we see in our loved ones, let’s consider the most common form of dementia: Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s typically affects the area of the brain called the hippocampus before it spreads to other regions. The hippocampus is largely responsible for memory, which is why memory loss is often the first symptom patients experience. Damage to the hippocampus and the surrounding temporal lobe can cause memory loss, disorientation, difficulty remembering words or using them properly, trouble recognizing what we see and hear, among other things.

As dementia spreads, those with the disease may begin to experience symptoms such as changes in personality, impulsive behavior, poor judgment, trouble thinking straight or following directions or putting things in order. Recognizing these symptoms is the first step in providing care for a loved one. While we cannot stop the progression of damage inside the brain, we can learn how to understand the changes it causes in our loved ones and develop techniques to cope with and care for their unique symptoms.

An important fact to remember if you’re caring for a loved one with dementia is that its progression can be different from one person to the next. From what we know now, there is no pattern in what areas of the brain the disease spreads to once it manifests. This means that one person may experience vastly different symptoms, or the same symptoms in a different order, than another person with dementia. Caregivers should educate themselves about all the symptoms their loved one might experience in order to be prepared for them if or when they occur.

Compassionate Support Through Your Journey

“At Clarity Pointe, we understanding that everyone’s experience with dementia is unique,” says Griffin. “We take a personal approach to each resident and work to understand their individual journey. This requires us to know as much as we possibly can about how this disease affects the brain and how that damage contributes to various symptoms. Our caregivers are highly trained in memory care and continually practice the latest evidence-based care techniques.”

Until we learn more about dementia and its effects on the brain, the team at Clarity Pointe Tallahassee is devoted to providing the quality of memory care that enhances lives. If you would like to learn more about memory loss or the care we provide at Clarity Pointe, contact us today.

Clarity Pointe™ … Our Difference is Clear

Clarity Pointe™’s Specialized Memory Care “Living” Neighborhoods are truly changing lives for those with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias – and for those who love them. At Clarity Pointe, our mission is to ensure our residents lead connected and rewarding lives.

Opening in January 2018, Clarity Pointe Tallahassee is unlike other providers that offer a secure memory care wing in a skilled nursing or assisted living center. Clarity Pointe Tallahassee will offer four free-standing, purpose-built memory care communities that are solely and entirely dedicated to memory care assisted living. Our communities blend luxurious surroundings with specialized care that is individualized to each resident and delivered by a compassionate, expert team of professionals.

We stay current on the latest trends and advancements in Alzheimer’s care and implement them into our residents’ care plans. Always moving forward, we combine the latest in evidence-based programming with luxurious, residential living and compassionate respectful care.

For each of our residents, we offer a life that is engaging, fulfilling, inspiring and meaningful.

To learn more about the Clarity Pointe™ Difference, contact us today!