The initial stages of the disease are hard to detect and result in mild memory loss, the inability to recall events etc. but do not disrupt daily life. This is mild cognitive impairment and may also be caused by other factors such as vitamin B12 deficiency or sleep disorders. By the middle stages the memory loss becomes more apparent. Neglecting personal hygiene, getting confused by the day or place, forgetting long-known things such as home address or telephone number and moodiness are symptoms. In the final stages memory has declined and meaningful communication is not possible. People in this stage need help for daily activity such as dressing, bathing, etc.
As we go through life here’s what we experience.
The brains capabilities vary as we age. In the twenties our brain development reaches maturity. We can solve problems, reason, learn, process, and remember new information such as people’s names and faces easily. In the thirties our learning, processing and thinking speed start to decline but our working memory is at its peak. In the fifties we may experience mild forgetfulness such as recalling names and words that once came easily. In the seventies we may have more trouble with the working memory. In the eighties we are likely to experience both short term and long term memory loss. We will find it harder to find words associated with people and everyday objects.
The brain gives us the ability to think, understand, learn and remember. It has over a 100 billion cells or neurons each of which is interconnected to the others in a complex web that forms a flexible and continuously changing network. With each new experience the network of neurons keeps changing. Connections that are not used become weaker with time and are cleared. This continuous reorganisation is referred to as plasticity by scientists. Plasticity plays an important role in the brains ability to learn and adapt. Researchers believe that plasticity changes as we age but it can be enhanced by activities that challenge the brain.
Mentally challenging activity and learning new things is a way to enhance cognitive reserve which diminishes the risk of developing dementia. We should keep trying experiences beyond our comfort zone such as learning a new language or a musical instrument or other new skills. If you play sudoku or crosswords, keep increasing the level of difficulty. Also engage in different mental activity not just one. Cultural activities such as plays, concerts visits to the museums are enriching and stimulating. Travel also brings different experiences and mental stimulation.
In the next post I will cover in more detail the actions we can take to delay the onset of dementia.
Reference: Harvard Medical School’s report – A Guide to Cognitive Fitness
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