Lifestyle

Memory Health – How the Brain Works and the Changes Caused By Alzheimer’s

August 20, 2018

The brain is our most precious organ apart from the heart. Without it, we don’t live. Our bodies may continue to sustain life without brain function (much like a coma), but we can all agree that that is not living.

At just three pounds, the brain is so important as is its care. Concussions, lack of use, and factors that have little to do with outside considerations all impact how well our brain will or won’t function later on in life.

Over five million Americans live with some type of dementia, but some studies are showing that degenerative brain diseases like Alzheimer’s are on the decline, and that’s welcome news.

The Framingham Heart Study, a joint project on Alzheimer’s research undertaken by the National Heart, Blood, and Lung Institute and Boston University, has been studying dementia since 1975. The study followed 2,000 caucasian people, aged 60 to 101, and hope to show that some cases of dementia might be preventable or at least delayed. The study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine, and found that over the past few decades, dementia has been steadily decreasing by some 20% per decade.

The study found that the decrease of dementia seemed to apply only to those participants who had at least a high school diploma, but factors contributing to the decline have not been fully identified.

The Alzheimer’s Society says that lower levels of education and Alzheimer’s are connected. The brain seems to need to be used, and optimally, in order for it to stay sharp and not fall victim to diseases like Alzheimer’s. This doesn’t mean that those with a higher education won’t be prone to getting dementia, but only that it would push it to later on in life as Alzheimer’s research seems to indicate.

Based on research, we can surmise that those with a higher level of education stand a better chance of not getting degenerative brain diseases like Alzheimer’s, but it has yet to be concretely proven.

Keeping the mind active is so important for good brain health; something most people don’t even recognize as a thing to think about or concern themselves with, but they should.

Some activities for stimulating the brain are gardening, puzzles of all kinds, exercises that flex memory use, crosswords, and Sudoku. Currently, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, so break out the games and gardening tools, and take steps to keep your brain sharp because working the brain will help limit your chances of the brain being affected by Alzheimer’s.

So how does the brain work and how does Alzheimer’s change how the brain works? The brain is an organ; arguably the most important one. It has a soft, jelly-like consistency and is part of the nervous system. Without our brain, we would have difficulty walking, talking, and even doing something as simple as dressing ourselves.

There are four parts of the brain: the cerebellum, cerebrum, brain stem, and limbic system. The cerebrum is the largest part of the brain and is divided into four parts itself: the frontal, parietal, temporal, and occipital lobes. While these different parts of the brain have their own particular functions, they also work together.

The cerebrum controls our thoughts, such as reasoning, emotions, problem-solving, and perceptions. The cerebellum maintains our balance and muscle tone, and our gait. The brain stem controls and is responsible for blood pressure, respiration, and heart rate. The limbic system controls hunger, thirst, memory, fear, and emotion, so it is this limbic system that we need to put attention too when it comes to Alzheimer’s.

Alzheimer’s is a degenerative brain disease and literally destroys parts of the brain. But how does it do that exactly?

In Alzheimer’s disease, brain cells lose the ability to form new connections with other cells, and this is important as cells can’t simply exist on their own. Messenger chemicals in the disease also decline, and these losses make it very difficult for people to learn new information and retain what information was already stored in their brain, hence the loss of information and memory in those who suffer from the disease.

Someone with Alzheimer’s can forget their child’s name and even their own. Much isn’t understood about the disease, but more is being learned as Alzheimer’s research continues.

With Alzheimer’s, the nerve cell connections that are there also disappear and basically the information stored in them (like information stored on a USB drive or CD) fades.

As the disease progresses and worsens (which it inevitably does as there is no cure yet), nerve cells start to die. The death of nerve cells destroys the brain’s ability to understand the world around them and has them start forgetting information they knew before the disease set in.

Over time, widespread cell death erases even the most basic knowledge stored in that person’s brain and they lose the ability to recognize family and friends, and often forget who they are, and where they live.

In its latest and final stages, Alzheimer’s disease ends up destroying brain cells that control movement and swallowing, so constant care for basic life needs at this point is required. Those who suffer from Alzheimer’s often need to be placed in a facility with round-the-clock help to keep them safe and cared for as it is beyond the scope of most family members to provide such consistent attention. Eventually, those who suffer from the disease die from Alzheimer’s.

Researchers and scientists are constantly working to figure out the mystery of how exactly Alzheimer’s destroys brain cells. Not much is known about the precise workings of the disease and the connection between cells and the brain, and the interplay that unfolds that to lead to degeneration of the brain in such an overwhelming and debilitating manner.

However, there are actions that can be taken to delay the disease and working in closely with a physician will provide the best long-term outcome. Don’t delay. Take action to maintain your brain health today.

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