TRYING TO UNDERSTAND DEMENTIA
By Armand Rodrigues
Fast-forward to now. Medical terms such as Alzheimer’s and Dementia have become the norm. “Senior moment” is also used loosely. Worldwide over 47 million people are going through the phase. Today the symptoms are said to be memory disorders, personality changes, impaired reasoning, disorientation and slurred speech.
I often wondered what the cause or causes could be. What follows is what I have garnered from published sources, about the condition. It may or may not resonate with everybody. Conventional wisdom now sees things in a different light. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of Dementia. Dementia is not just a disease of the elderly or those over 65. The onset of Dementia can start as early as 30 but is harder to diagnose as the cognitive decline is milder or may be attributed to stress, depression, anxiety or psychiatric illness. If detected early, treatments are available that may halt the progression. All of us have five senses. We can see, smell, taste, feel and hear. As we age, our cognitive faculties diminish in acuity. There was a time when I could look at a school-reunion photograph and instantly recall names.
Today it takes me longer to associate a name with a face and, at times, I draw a complete blank. A cook has to be able to see what he/she is cooking, taste it and smell it or else rely on questionable guesswork, with disastrous results. The analogy applies to dementia. Growing evidence suggests that deficits in hearing and seeing can lead to a decline in cognitive abilities (faculty of knowing or perceiving). Three parts of the brain come into play in this equation: the instinctual brain, the emotional brain, and the thinking brain. If you encounter any danger, instinct kicks in and helps protect you. Your emotional brain feels fear and anxiety. Your thinking brain knows that you are in danger. In dementia, the thinking brain is what has been found to be functioning erratically.
When you cannot hear well, the brain receives distorted signals and cannot easily and instantly decipher the meaning of messages. Hearing loss results in faster atrophy in the thinking section that relates to memory, learning and thinking. Poor or failing eyesight only aggravates matters, as does diabetes and some medications. As well, a person’s inability to recognize familiar smells, like menthol, clove or lemon, is an early warning that Alzheimer’s may be in the offing. In a sense, with these drawbacks, the wires get crossed in the brain and then distort its inner workings and cause mental deterioration and disorientation. Instant recall becomes difficult. Short-term memory, reasoning, reading, comprehension and one’s voice are compromised. The brain is in a kind of fog. One’s personality or behaviour may change. The feeling of confusion is constant. An otherwise outgoing person may become insular and reclusive. Panic sets in. One may react with violence or aggression.
Uncorrected deficits in hearing and vision can hasten cognitive decline. If one becomes socially isolated or lonely, it only compounds the problem. If corrective action is taken on a timely basis, the onset of dementia can be diminished. Physical and mental exercises have been found to be indispensable in maintaining a degree of stability in our cognitive abilities. Stimulating activities are part of the solution. To stave loneliness, participation in club, church or volunteer activities can help in social interaction.
And, before we forget, a proper Will and Power of Attorney made when one is in control of one’s cognitive faculties, is a must.