In Chapter 1, I highlighted the ten facts of Dementia stated by the World Health Organisation.
It starts by telling us this:
Dementia is a syndrome, usually of a chronic or progressive nature, caused by a variety of brain illnesses that affect memory, thinking, behaviour and ability to perform everyday activities.
I want to start by unpacking and clarifying this seemingly simple, straightforward statement.
The term Dementia you should know is based on a historical horror story that lingers and plights us still today.
Dementia is a syndrome, so what’s a syndrome?
Syndrome: a group of signs and symptoms that occur together and characterise a particular abnormality or condition.
So, if a group shows the signs and symptoms that appear to be the same, the group is the same—this indicates a problem in the term. Although the signs and symptoms may appear to be the same, it does not necessarily mean that the cause is!
The opening statement also states this: caused by a variety of brain illnesses. So what is brain illnesses?
I haven’t seen a human brain, but I have seen a sheep’s. The consistency is extraordinary. It is just like a blob of over firm tofu moulded into different parts and poorly squashed together. You’ve most likely have guessed I’m no expert. But this extraordinary organ is made up basically of two types of cells. There are the neurones, what we think of as brain cells and the Glia cells, which literally means ‘neural glue,’ that holds it all together and performs the brain maintenance. When I say cells, I don’t mean a few dozen or even hundreds; I mean billions. Some say there are 80-100 billion brain cells. That’s a number that I can’t get my head around, but what about the Glia cells? Well, it is estimated that there are 10 – 50 times more of these than brain cells. However, no one really knows the actual number. They just know it’s a lot.
Neurons are the basic building blocks of our nervous system. These specialised cells are the information-processing units of the brain responsible for receiving and transmitting information that controls every human function throughout life.
Here’s another big number event coming up. Each Neuron may be connected to up to 10,000 other neurons, passing signals to each other via as many as 1,000 trillion connections. I told you it’s mind-blowing!
It does appear that different groups of neurons located in specific areas of the brain form different functions. These areas included sight, hearing, thinking, memory, behaviour, movement. In fact, all functions have been mapped to the brain. This doesn’t happen in isolation; the brain seems to operate as a whole. However, if certain areas have difficulties, then the signs and symptoms that we perceive may be associated!
We need to keep the neurons healthy to ensure they function to the best of their ability. They need to be protected; that’s why they are inside the skull. They need to be fed, hydrated and given a good oxygen supply.
The brain is only 2% of the bodies weight, but it uses 20% of our energy. It is a powerhouse, and it needs constant care and attention. The brain does everything it can to survive and function at its best.
If a neuron stops functioning, for whatever reason, the brain will quickly look to find alternative connections to maintain a given function and allow the dysfunctioning Neuron to die. This is a natural process. Although the number of neurons is immense, and this process can function for most of our lives without failure, it is not infinite. If too many cells die, the brain will start to show signs of disfunction and close down. This, again, is a normal function.
What can cause the neurons to stop working. Well, the first three are obvious, if you stop feeding the brain, stop keeping it hydrated and cut off the air supply. However, the cause of this can be manyfold. You can damage the brain cells by brute force. Every time you get a nasty knock to the head, brain cells will be damaged and die. Illnesses can and will affect the needs of the brain cells, and over long periods, a more significant deterioration would occur.
Other areas that are less likely to be thought of are environmental. If fumes get into your system, they can impact the neurons’ directly or indirectly over time.
Another area of contention is age. It is stated that Dementia is not related to any signs or symptoms of ageing. But I don’t believe this is true. Our bodies are designed to degenerate over life, and then we die. I think everything works in the same way, a process of decay. Neurons are no different. There is a life period for every cell, so it only seems obvious that in time, with age, neurons will die. However, the function of your brain throughout life depends on two things, the body you have and the life you have lived. Just because you get old, you may never see the signs or symptoms known as Dementia.
If a particular area of the brain becomes damaged and neuron death occurs, specific signs and symptoms will most likely appear. This is why certain types of conditions are named, and people diagnosed in accordance with those signs and symptoms. A cause, style, or finding can isolate a particular reason for neuron death. More often, the death of neurons can be widespread and have multiple outcomes and never diagnosed. In these cases, the term Dementia is used!
Dementia is a blanket term, something the medical profession will do when they see the signs and symptoms present but don’t know its cause!
Neuron death is the reason for the signs and symptoms we experience, and until that is recognised, we will remain in a situation where we are told, ‘it’s too late, there is no treatment,’ and given drugs to subdue. Carers left to endure!
Knowing the cause of brain death means that we can look at prevention and even using those same methods and ideas to treat those, like me, branded as Demented!
For some, that diagnosis means an outcome may be more likely; I’m depressed! For those that have no specific outcome because no one knows, I say, we have to live. Don’t give up, don’t accept the rhetoric of a bland statement of no hope! There is always hope!
We can start by changing that dreaded word… Dementia!
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