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Both these comments are filled with great resources for you. Wishing you strength, courage and happiness with your loved one on this journey!
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Barb~Try to type in the browser symptoms of dementia, or see what the Alzheimer's Association has to say-they can be reached at 1-800-272-3900, they are also online, also your local agency on aging most likely will have information.

I personally think it is very helpful to gather as much information as possible-to best be prepared on a caregiving journey.

Best wishes!

Hap
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There are many forms of dementia. The most common is Alzheimer type dementia. This web site can give you some insight. http://www.alz.org/index.asp
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It's a gift from God so we don't realize we're getting ready to pass on.My mother has it.It's terrible.She has got 4 times as bad in just this past year.She no longer knows who I am even.Physically she's here but mentally she left us long ago.Prayers yer way my friend.
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Like most have already said research is the best way to know what you are dealing with. My Mom has it as well. She has her good days and bad. Just be there for them.
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Ditto on what others said. I was looking at an in depth article about it and basically it is the body detioriating, I know that sounds horrible but we are organic life and only destined to live so long. So as we grow older as you know everything starts to fall apart. I don't know if you have ever taken biology and studied the synapses of the brain, but basically it's like our arteries that fill with plaque and blood cannot get through it's the same with the synapses of the brain, plaque is between them and messages don't come and go as well between them as well. So that's it in basically a scientific nutshell. There is no going back just slowing it down.
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Want To Improve Memory? Strengthen Your Synapses. Here's How
11 Jan 2007

Nurturing neuronal connections can protect your memory and help you stay mentally alert.

A sharp mind and strong memory depend on the vitality of your brain's network of interconnecting neurons, and especially on junctions between these neurons called synapses. Since many of the brain changes that accompany aging and mental disorders are associated with deterioration or loss of synapses, learning ways to strengthen and protect these important connections may help you delay or avoid cognitive decline.

These findings appear in the February issue of Mind, Mood and Memory, a newsletter from Massachusetts General Hospital, a leading center of excellence in the field of cognitive fitness.

The synapse is the point of communication between one neuron and a neighboring neuron, muscle cell or gland cell. It is the site where virtually all important brain activity emerges. At this gap between the message-relaying axon of one brain cell and the message-receiving dendrites of its neighbor, chemicals called neurotransmitters are released and absorbed in a process of information transmission that spreads throughout extensive networks of cells.

There are trillions of synapses in the brain: Each one of our more than 100 billion neurons may be connected to hundreds of other cells by as many as 10,000 synapses. Together they form a complex and flexible instrument upon which the music of our thoughts, behaviors and feelings is played out.

Research has established that, among its many functions, the synapse plays an important role in learning and memory. New information is absorbed and retained through a process characterized by changes in synaptic interconnections among neurons in the hippocampus and cerebral cortex, regions of the brain associated with memory. But the ability to learn and remember, along with other mental and emotional processes, can be influenced by the effects of lifestyle and environment on the synapses. Studies suggest that neurons that are adversely affected by factors such as stress, lack of stimulation, or neurotoxins may be hampered in their ability to form new patterns of connectivity and may lose synaptic connections.

"Psychiatry essentially deals with brain issues that transpire at the synaptic level and at connections between neurons in different brain regions," says Eric M. Morrow, MD, PhD, Instructor in Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and a researcher in neuroscience and genetics at Massachusetts General Hospital. "Most medications that have been developed to treat mood and other neuropsychiatric disorders work at this level. In psychiatry, the emphasis is generally on problems and benefits that come from the functioning of the brain's synapses and chemicals, whereas treatment for lesions of the brain such as those associated with stroke or brain injury is done by neurologists.

"Researchers are developing ways to study neurotransmitters in the synapse to measure their effects on brain plasticity (ability to change in response to experience), learning and memory, and to discover their association with disorders such as mild cognitive impairment (MCI), Alzheimer's disease and depression," he adds. "While the associated symptoms of mental health are not subtle, visualizing the functioning brain at the level of the synapse is difficult. This is a very challenging but important problem. New tools are on the way that may one day help scientists develop a deeper understanding of synaptic function."

How the synapse functions

Neurons send and receive messages using their single axon a tubular filament that conducts electrical signals away from the cell and dendrites projections with a tree-like structure that receive signals from other cells across a synapse. When one cell communicates with another, it sends a wave of electrical activity down its axon to one of a cluster of presynaptic terminals branches at the end of the axon that are positioned close to a neighboring cell's dendrites.

In most cell communication, once a signal reaches the presynaptic terminal, the nerve impulse is transformed into a message composed of one or more neurotransmitters. These neurotransmitters are then released into a gap called the synaptic cleft, where they relay their message by binding with receptors on the post-synaptic membrane of the neighboring cell.

It is generally agreed that learning occurs when the acquisition of new information causes synaptic changes, but scientists are not yet certain precisely how these changes come about. Several theories have been proposed. In one, called the Hebbian theory, it is thought that any two cells or systems of cells that are repeatedly activated at the same time will tend to become "associated," so that activity in one makes it more likely the other will become active. Repeated co-activation of connected cells is thought to make physical changes in the brain such as the development of new synapses between neurons or more receptors in the post-synaptic membranev that lead to a lasting memory.

Another theory ascribes learning to the strengthening of existing synapses. It is thought that the developing brain overproduces synapses early in life. Subsequently experience, by activating certain nerve cells repeatedly and ignoring others, determines which synapses become mature and stable and which ones wither away in a process of synaptic pruning. Over time, this process leaves us with only highly functional synapses. Learning and memory are thought to result when repeated stimulation of sets of neurons causes the communication across synapses to be strengthened, a condition called long-term potentiation.

Keeping synapses healthy

Maintaining brain cells and synapses in good condition is critical, since mental performance is totally reliant on the health of the brain's complex network of trillions of synapses. Deterioration or loss of synapses can result in changes in mood and cognition, and in alterations of brain functioning such as those associated with neurological disorders or aging.

Stress is a major cause of synapse dysfunction.. Research shows that prolonged exposure to stress can interfere with the function of neurotransmitters. Excessive amounts of the excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate may accumulate in the synapse. In high concentrations, glutamate becomes a toxin that can interfere with learning and cause cell damage in the brain's memory regions. Research presented at the 2006 American Psychological Association convention suggests that repeated stress remodels the brain and causes neurons in the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex to shrink. Stress can also lead to depression, which is associated with memory difficulties.

A number of studies suggest that lack of stimulation is associated with a reduced number of synaptic connections in the brain, a factor that may increase vulnerability to Alzheimer's disease (AD). For example, scientists who used an electron microscope to compare post-mortem brain tissue from the prefrontal cortex of 16 subjects found that those whose professions required greater amounts of skill or education had 17 percent more synapses for each neuron than those with less education. Another study suggests that seniors who enjoy a variety of intellectually challenging activities (such as playing a musical instrument, solving puzzles or reading) have a lower risk of developing dementia. It is thought that the larger number of neuronal interconnections associated with regular intellectual activity may provide extra insurance against cognitive decline.

The synapses are vulnerable to neurotoxins, as well. Excessive alcohol consumption, exposure to certain pesticides and heavy metals, and to drugs such as phencyclidine (PCP) and ketamine can cause memory problems and synaptic loss. The toxin from the bacteria that causes poisonous botulism acts directly on the synapses by blocking transmission of neurotransmitters, as does the deadly toxin curare.

Following these tips may help you keep your mind active and alert by protecting and strengthening your synapses:

1. Reduce stress: Make time for leisure activities. Learn relaxation techniques such as meditation. Cut down on unnecessary responsibilities and avoid over-scheduling.

2. Stimulate your brain: Avoid routine. Enjoy new sensory experiences. Challenge your mind and body with new situations.

3. Exercise: A brisk walk or other cardiovascular workout oxygenates the brain and promotes brain growth factors.

4. Challenge your mind: Tackle puzzles, games and demanding intellectual tasks. Make an effort to learn new information through classes or reading

5. Stay healthy: Eat a nutritious diet, get adequate sleep, avoid smoking, and if you use alcohol, drink in moderation.
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First let me commend you for looking for information on your uncle's condition. Hopefully you are not the only family member that is there to help him. If there are others, talk to them about your concerns and help your uncle.

Dementia is not a specific disease, it is a word used to describe the mental condition of a person whose memory is impaired, and whose problems with processing information are severe enough to interfere with his or her ability to function normally. Dementia is not part of the aging process, and is termed as a progressive condition. In other words, over time, the persons abilities will continue to deteriorate. Alzheimer's is one of the most common forms of dementia and it eventually robs our loved ones of the ability to do even the most 'normal of functions, including remembering to eat and then eventually even how to swallow.

If you have other family members that you can talk to, make sure that your Uncle's 'affairs' are in order so he will receive the help he needs as his abilities diminish. There are many things that need to be done to allow for his care.

If you are the only family member left to care for your uncle, make sure that legally you can do so. Talk to an elder lawyer and begin the process of becoming his power of attorney or even his guardian, so his affairs will be taken care of. There are tons of resources online and even in your neighborhood that can help you.
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