The Effects Of Alzheimers On The Brain
Damage to the brain begins years before symptoms appear. Abnormal protein deposits form plaques and tangles in the brain of someone with Alzheimers disease. Connections between cells are lost, and they begin to die. In advanced cases, the brain shows significant shrinkage.
Its impossible to diagnose Alzheimers with complete accuracy while a person is alive. The diagnosis can only be confirmed when the brain is examined under a microscope during an autopsy. However, specialists are able to make the correct diagnosis up to 90 percent of the time.
The symptoms of Alzheimers and dementia can overlap, but there can be some differences.
Both conditions can cause:
- behavioral changes
- difficulty speaking, swallowing, or walking in advanced stages of the disease
Some types of dementia will share some of these symptoms, but they include or exclude other symptoms that can help make a differential diagnosis. Lewy body dementia , for example, has many of the same later symptoms as Alzheimers. However, people with LBD but are more likely to experience initial symptoms such as visual hallucinations, difficulties with balance, and sleep disturbances.
People with dementia due to Parkinsons or Huntingtons disease are more likely to experience involuntary movement in the early stages of the disease.
Treatment for dementia will depend on the exact cause and type of dementia, but many treatments for dementia and Alzheimers will overlap.
‘cure’ Could Take Many Forms
As varied as the research pipeline is, most experts agree on one thing: When it comes to finding a way to stop, slow or prevent dementia, it wont boil down to one drug treatment or even one drug target. Rather, it will be a combination approach, perhaps involving drugs that clear the amyloid plaques, knock out the tau tangles, target problem proteins and improve the synaptic health of the nerve cells in the brain.
Patients may also receive nonpharmacological prescriptions from their doctors. Some of the most recent research has shown that cardiovascular health and cerebral vascular health play a critical role in overall brain health throughout ones lifetime. Exercise, diet and sleep have all been shown to reduce risk of cognitive decline in adults. Whats more, a landmark study in 2018 showed that intensive blood pressure control significantly lowered the chances that participants developed mild cognitive impairment.
The mishmash of therapies likely wont cure dementia, but as Rafii explains, we have very few cures in medicine. He and others in the field, including the DDFs Grant, are optimistic, however, that the ongoing advancements will lead to treatments that can delay the disease and improve the lives of millions.
What Im seeing is great progress in the building blocks, the foundation of new future therapeutic approaches, Grant says.
More on Dementia
Can You Recover From Chronic Sleep Deprivation
Sleep disorders can be hard to fix, and it may require motivation and major lifestyle adjustments to improve. But there are steps you can take to start sleeping better. And if youre worried about chronic diseases related to sleep deprivation like dementia it does seem likely that improving your sleep could help protect you.
First, its always important to discuss sleep issues with your healthcare provider. Youll want to make sure that there are no medical conditions, other sleep disorders , or medications that could be contributing to your sleep issues.
Youll also want to work on developing good sleep habits also referred to as sleep hygiene to start working toward better sleep. Consider taking some of these steps to improve your sleep hygiene:
Set a schedule. Get into bed and get out of bed at the same time each day.
If you cant fall asleep after about 20 minutes, get up for a while before trying to sleep again.
Avoid caffeine and alcohol later in the day.
Dont nap during the day.
Set a bedtime routine by using your five senses to alert your brain that sleep time is approaching. For example, take a hot bath, light a candle, use a specific face wash, or listen to a relaxing playlist you can get creative with this one.
Move your body during the day, but try not to do strenuous exercise less than 4 hours before bedtime.
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What Is Wernickes Encephalopathy
Wernickes encephalopathy develops if a persons brain doesnt get enough thiamine . This is almost always caused by a person drinking too much alcohol.
Alcohol prevents thiamine from being absorbed properly in the gut, stops it from being used properly in the body, and increases the amount of thiamine that the body loses in the urine.
What are the symptoms of Wernickes encephalopathy?
Wernickes encephalopathy can be difficult to identify particularly if a person is still intoxicated with alcohol. The symptoms can sometimes be mistaken for alcohol withdrawal.
The symptoms of Wernickes encephalopathy include:
- being disorientated, confused or having mild memory loss
- having difficulty controlling eye movements
- having poor balance, being unsteady and walking with their legs wide apart
- being undernourished for example, being very underweight or having lost a lot of weight in the previous months.
It is unusual for someone with Wernickes encephalopathy to have all of these symptoms. However, most people will be disoriented and confused.
Diagnosis of Wernickes encephalopathy
Because a person with Wernickes encephalopathy is in a very serious condition, diagnosis is often carried out in a hospital. The doctor will look for symptoms of the condition and may also carry out a brain scan to confirm their diagnosis.
As with other forms of ARBD, a diagnosis can be more challenging if the doctor doesnt know how much alcohol the person drinks.
Get support with ARBD
How Is Dementia Diagnosed
An early diagnosis allows someone to get support quickly, or in some cases identify a treatable condition. Referral to a neurologist, a neuropsychologist and/or a geriatrician may also be appropriate.
Diagnosing dementia requires a full medical and psychological assessment. This may include:
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Other Therapy For Dementia After A Head Injury
Persons who are unable to prepare food or feed themselves are in danger of becoming malnourished. Their diets must be monitored to be sure that they are getting proper nutrition. Dementia patients who may have a poor gag reflex or difficulty swallowing may need special medical assistance for obtaining nutrition. Otherwise, no special dietary prescriptions or restrictions apply.
In general, the person should be as active as possible. In the early phases of rehabilitation, simple physical exercises and games may improve endurance and self-confidence. These activities should gradually increase in difficulty.
It may be necessary to change the surroundings to prevent falls and accidents that could cause repeat injuries. Often, guidance from an occupational therapist and physical therapist can be helpful for maintaining a safe and appropriate environment and level of activity.
People who play contact sports should not return to play until cleared by their health care provider. Even a mild head injury makes the brain more fragile. A second blow to the head, even a very slight one, could cause a person with a recent head injury to die of sudden brain swelling. This is called second injury syndrome.
Support Their Cultural And Spiritual Needs
Its good to be aware of the persons cultural and spiritual needs and make sure these are respected and supported. You can make use of any advance care plans or documents, friends and family input and your knowledge of the person. Its important to try and meet these needs as much as possible, they are just as important as medical care.
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What Is Sleep Deprivations Link With Dementia
One night of poor sleep can cause issues with your thinking the next day. But many months or years of inadequate sleep may lead to more serious and chronic problems with your thinking. For example, one study found that people who sleep less than 4 hours a night may struggle more with their thinking, learning, and memory abilities.
Research is ongoing, but so far, a history of sleep trouble does seem to increase the risk of dementia for some people. One study suggests sleep deprivation could increase your dementia risk by 20%. In middle age, even getting less than 6 hours of sleep per night may increase your dementia risk in the future.
Researchers have identified other signs that a lack of sleep may impact your dementia risk. A small study found that missing just one night of sleep can lead to extra beta-amyloid in your brain. Beta-amyloid is a protein that plays a role in developing dementia. It is important to note, however, that this study only looked at 20 people and did not directly measure any effects on memory.
Keep in mind that dementia is a complex condition, and experts are still working to understand what causes the disease. Not getting enough sleep is only one potential risk factor for developing dementia. Just because youre struggling with sleep right now doesnt mean youre guaranteed to develop dementia.
Caring For A Person With Late
If you are caring at home for someone who is in the later stages of dementia the Aged Care Assessment Team can help with advice and referrals for all aspects of care. You can contact your nearest ACAT by calling the number listed in the Age Page of your telephone directory. Your doctor or hospital can also help you to contact your local ACAT.
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Treatment For Dementia In Head Injury
Head injuries often bring an abrupt “coping crisis.” The sudden adverse changes that go with a head injury inevitability cause many emotions. Anxiety is a common response, and the person may become demoralized or depressed. Damage to the brain may impair the personâs ability to cope at a time when the need to adapt is greatest. Persons with head injury typically are more distressed and have more difficulty coping with their injury than persons who have other types of injuries.
Usually, a particular family member assumes most of the responsibility for the injured personâs care. Ideally, more than one family member should be closely involved in caregiving. This helps family members share the burdens of providing care and helps the primary caregiver keep from becoming isolated or overwhelmed. Caregivers should be included in all significant interactions with health care professionals.
Caregivers must encourage and expect the injured person to be as independent and productive as possible. At the same time, caregivers need to be patient and tolerant. They should accept that the person may have real limitations and that these will likely worsen if the person is tired, ill, or stressed. Emphasizing what the person can still do, rather than what seems to be lost, is helpful.
With head injuries, the greatest improvement is expected in the first six months, but delayed improvement is possible as long as five years after the injury.
Things Not To Say To Someone With Dementia
Speaking to an elderly loved one with dementia can be difficult and emotionally draining. Alzheimers and dementia can lead to conversations that dont make sense, are inappropriate or uncomfortable, and may upset a family caregiver. However, over time, its important to adapt to the seniors behavior, and understand that their condition doesnt change who they are.
For senior caregivers, its important to always respond with patience. Here are some things to remember not to say to someone with dementia, and what you can say instead.
1. Youre wrong
For experienced caregivers, this one may seem evident. However, for someone who hasnt dealt with loss of cognitive function before, it can be hard to go along with something a loved one says that clearly isnt true. Theres no benefit to arguing, though, and its best to avoid upsetting a senior with dementia, who is already in a vulnerable emotional state due to confusion.
Instead, change the subject.
Its best to distract, not disagree. If an elderly loved one makes a wrong comment, dont try to fight them on it just change the subject and talk about something else ideally, something pleasant, to change their focus. There are plenty of things not to say to someone with dementia, but if theres one to remember, its anything that sounds like youre wrong.
2. Do you remember?
Instead, say: I remember
3. They passed away.
4. I told you
Instead, repeat what you said.
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What Are The Symptoms
Each person is unique and will experience dementia in their own way. The different types of dementia tend to affect people differently, especially in the early stages.
A person with dementia will often have cognitive symptoms . They will often have problems with some of the following:
- Day-to-day memory difficulty recalling events that happened recently.
- Repetition repeating the same question or conversation frequently in a short space of time.
- Concentrating, planning or organising difficulties making decisions, solving problems or carrying out a sequence of tasks .
- Language difficulties following a conversation or finding the right word for something.
- Visuospatial skills – problems judging distances and seeing objects in three dimensions.
- Orientation – losing track of the day or date, or becoming confused about where they are.
Some people have other symptoms including movement problems, hallucinations or behaviour changes.
Treatment For Dementia After A Head Injury
The head-injured person who has become demented will benefit from any of the following:
- Family or network intervention
- Social services
One goal of these interventions is to help the head-injured person adapt to their injury cognitively and emotionally. Another is to help the person master skills and behaviors that will help them reach personal goals. These interventions also help family members learn ways that they can help the head-injured person and themselves cope with the challenges a head injury poses.These interventions can be especially important in establishing realistic expectations for outcome and pace of improvement.
Behavior modification has been shown to be very helpful in rehabilitation of brain-injured persons. These techniques may be used to discourage impulsive, aggressive, or socially inappropriate behaviors. They also help counteract the apathy and withdrawal common in head-injured persons.
- Behavior modification rewards desired behaviors and discourages undesirable behaviors by withdrawing rewards. The goals and rewards are, of course, tailored to each individual. The family usually becomes involved to help reinforce the desired behaviors.
- Persons who have insomnia or other sleep disturbances are taught “sleep hygiene.” This instills daytime and bedtime habits that promote restful sleep. Sleeping pills are generally avoided in persons with head injury, who are more sensitive to the side effects of these drugs.
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How Might Dementia Affect People Towards The End Of Life
Dementia is progressive, which means it gets worse over time. In the last year of life, its likely to have a big impact on the persons abilities including memory, communication and everyday activities. The speed at which someone will get worse will depend on the type of dementia they have and who they are as an individual.
The symptoms of later stage dementia include the following:
A person with later stage dementia often deteriorates slowly over many months. They gradually become more frail, and will need more help with everyday activities such as eating, dressing, washing and using the toilet. People may experience weight loss, as swallowing and chewing become more difficult.
A person with later-stage dementia may also have symptoms that suggest they are close to death, but continue to live with these symptoms for many months. This can make it difficult for the person and their family to plan for the end of life. It also makes it difficult for those supporting them professionally.
For more information on supporting someone with later stage dementia see Alzheimers Society factsheet, The later stages of dementia .
Why Dementia Symptoms Fluctuate
The common perception that symptoms come and go is an important area worthy of additional study. From what we know now, here are five considerations when thinking about why your loved one might experience increasing and decreasing signs of dementia.
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Can Dementia Be Prevented
Because the causes of dementia are not yet fully known, there is no sure way to prevent dementia. However, you can reduce the risk of dementia by caring for your:
- Heart health Whats good for your heart is good for your brain. Have a healthy diet and stop smoking.
- Body health Regular physical activity increases blood flow to the brain. Keep an active lifestyle.
- Mind health An active mind helps build brain cells and strengthens their connections. Stay social, play games like puzzles and crosswords, and take up new hobbies and languages.
Learn more about the risk factors of dementia such as ageing, smoking and high cholesterol and blood pressure: