Like the rest of our body, our brain changes as we age. Most of us notice some slowed thinking and the occasional problem while remembering the name of an old friend or place we traveled to long ago. However, serious memory loss, confusion and other major changes in our behavior and in the way our minds work are not a normal part of aging. They may be a sign that brain cells are failing and the beginning of Alzheimer’s.
The brain has 100 billion nerve cells (neurons). Each nerve cell communicates with many others to form networks. Nerve cell networks have special jobs. Some are involved in thinking, learning and remembering. Others help us see, hear and smell. Still others tell our muscles when to move. In Alzheimer’s disease, as in other types of dementia, increasing numbers of brain cells deteriorate and die.
Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia. Dementia is a general term for memory loss and other intellectual abilities serious enough to interfere with daily life. Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 50 to 80 percent of dementia cases. Other types of dementia include vascular dementia, mixed dementia, dementia with Lewy bodies and front temporal dementia.
Two abnormal structures called plaques and tangles are prime suspects in damaging and killing nerve cells.
Scientists are not absolutely sure what role plaques and tangles play in Alzheimer’s disease. Most experts believe they somehow block communication among nerve cells and disrupt activities that cells need to survive. That’s what happens physically. What happens to a patient’s behavior and thinking is so bizarre at times that we have a difficult time associating with the caregiver’s stress level if we haven’t walked through this disease with a loved one ourselves.
For more in depth discussions and to follow the lives of a single group of Alzheimer’s Patients from early diagnosis through the progression of their disease, The Forgetting is the best book I’ve ever read about Alzheimer’s.
The Forgetting by David Shenk
I’ve read many many books on this subject since my Mom was diagnosed with Alzheimers, always hoping to learn “why” or “what” this horrible disease was doing to her brain as well as her thoughts and behaviors. I knew it was taking my Mom away, but I wanted to know more!
This book offered a view into the mind of the Alzheimer’s patient as it followed a select group of members in early diagnosis, long before any troubling symptoms had occurred. It was stunning to watch their thought process deteriorate as they drifted further into the disease and eventually into denial of their very diagnosis. No other book has given me the insight as this one, especially following that lovely group of people through the stages. It offered insight into Mom’s feelings and actions and odd behaviors at times. Seems like it’s easier to endure if we have a tiny insight into “why!”
I’ve read my own copy of this book until the pages are dog-eared and purchased 2 copies for both my brothers. My mom passed away 3 years ago, and occasionally I’m reminded of something she said or did and take a short journey back into the pages of this wonderful book. It was a wonderful support for me in helping me cope with some of the strangest behavior I’d ever seen and I hope it might help you too.
READ THE FIRST CHAPTER FOR FREE!