Watching a loved one struggle to recall memories, remember names and faces or complete daily tasks can be distressing, especially if you don’t understand what’s happening. Learning how Alzheimer’s disease changes the brain will provide you with some insight into your loved one’s condition.
How Our Brains Form Memories
Creating memories is a complex neurological process of receiving, interpreting, storing and retrieving information for later use.
There are three stages of memory creation:
- Sensory register: This is the stage during which your brain passively gathers information about your environment through visual and auditory cues.
- Short-term and working memory: Information is temporarily stored for immediate use in short-term memory. Working memory is used to retain input that will need to be recalled and applied to a different action.
- Long-term memory: Information is stored in long-term memory for extended periods, but not indefinitely. The hippocampus retrieves input from the working memory and rewires neural pathways to accommodate it.
Alzheimer’s Effect on the Brain
Alzheimer’s is a neurodegenerative disease that disrupts the chemical and electrical communication between neurons. It usually causes tissue shrinkage and cell death in the parts of the brain responsible for memories, language, reasoning and behavior.
As Alzheimer’s progresses, amyloid plaques develop between neural connections, blocking communication between synapses. Neurofibrillary tangles also form within the neurons of the learning and memory centers of the brain.
Those elements combine to decrease the presence of neurotransmitters, making it difficult for your brain to function properly. Without neural communication, your brain cannot effectively recall memories and important information.
A Comprehensive Approach to Alzheimer’s Treatment
There is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s, but there are options to ease and manage symptoms to improve quality of life. Several medications are available and usually used to treat early- and middle-stage Alzheimer’s. However, prescription drugs are not an all-encompassing treatment and should only be utilized after other strategies have been exhausted.
Antipsychotics, antidepressants and other medication manage behavioral changes such as aggression, agitation, anxiety and depression. Still, some of those drugs can have serious side effects that increase the risk of heart attack and stroke.
A personalized, patient-centric care strategy is a more effective way to address emotional and mental discomfort. The DICE approach uses input from doctors, caregivers and patients, if possible, to identify triggers and evaluate solutions.
- Describe: The care team and resident identify the who, what, where, when and why of a behavioral problem. For example, is the individual uncomfortable at a specific time of day? Is he/she distressed during social gatherings?
- Investigate: The healthcare staff examines the behavior for underlying health or environmental issues, including medication side effects, anxiety or lack of daily structure.
- Create: The team plans responses to avoid the trigger before it occurs. Caregivers also identify ways to redirect distress in creative or productive ways.
- Evaluate: A physician or caregiver assesses the plan’s effectiveness and adjusts as needed.
At Kemper House Worthington, we administer customized care plans to each resident. We don’t take a one-size-fits-all approach but instead strive to learn what makes each person special to treat their cognitive impairments accordingly.