My grandmother had dementia and it was very difficult to communicate with her because she couldn't participate in our conversation. I tried to find things from her past that she could relate to. I would take her for drives to view the landscape. She loved flowers and trees, so when the cherry blossoms bloom in Washington, DC. we would go see them. It was such a joy to see her smile and mention over and over how beautiful they were. What a gift that was and what a special memory for me. My grandmother died 7 years ago and you better believe when I go see the cherry blossoms annually I think of her.
Dementia is caused by damage to brain cells. This damage interferes with the ability of brain cells to communicate with each other. When brain cells cannot communicate normally, thinking, behavior and feelings can be affected.
The brain has many distinct regions, each of which is responsible for different functions (for example, memory, judgment and movement). When cells in a particular region are damaged, that region cannot carry out its functions normally.
Different types of dementia are associated with particular types of brain cell damage in particular regions of the brain. For example, in Alzheimer's disease, high levels of certain proteins inside and outside brain cells make it hard for brain cells to stay healthy and to communicate with each other. The brain region called the hippocampus is the center of learning and memory in the brain, and the brain cells in this region are often the first to be damaged. That's why memory loss is often one of the earliest symptoms of Alzheimer's.
While most changes in the brain that cause dementia are permanent and worsen over time, thinking and memory problems caused by the following conditions may improve when the condition is treated or addressed:
- Medication side effects
- Excess use of alcohol
- Thyroid problems
- Vitamin deficiencies
- There is no one test to determine if someone has dementia. Doctors diagnose Alzheimer's and other types of dementia based on a careful medical history, a physical examination, laboratory tests, and the characteristic changes in thinking, day-to-day function and behavior associated with each type. Doctors can determine that a person has dementia with a high level of certainty. But it's harder to determine the exact type of dementia because the symptoms and brain changes of different dementias can overlap. In some cases, a doctor may diagnose "dementia" and not specify a type. If this occurs it may be necessary to see a specialist such as a neurologist or gero-psychologist.
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with dementia, you are not alone. The Alzheimer's Association is one of the most trusted resources for information, education, referral and support.
Call Alz.org's 24/7 Helpline : 800.272.3900
Visit their online Alzheimer's and Dementia Caregiver Center
Locate a support group in your community
Visit their Virtual Library