What Does The Beginning Of Dementia Feel Like – We are more likely to recall memories and information that we use frequently than those acquired at a certain age. Christ-Gothard Honor/Shutterstock
Hannah Keage receives funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC). He is associated with the Australian Gerontological Association and the Australian Cognitive Neuroscience Society.
What Does The Beginning Of Dementia Feel Like
Tobias Loetscher does not work for, consult with, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant relationships outside of his academic appointment.
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People diagnosed with dementia often have a distorted sense of time. A friend of mine who is a physician often comments that patients with dementia prepare and arrive at their appointments hours before they are scheduled.
Dementias such as Alzheimer’s disease gradually impair thinking, causing problems with memory and planning, and daily functioning, making it difficult to do things like shopping and cleaning.
An accurate understanding of time is so important in our modern society (and for reasons more important than waiting room congestion) that this disorientation significantly affects people with dementia and their families and carers.
Australia’s population is aging, and this has led to an increase in the prevalence of dementia, the most common of which is Alzheimer’s disease. One in ten over-65s and one in three over-85s have dementia.
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There is a neurological reason why those affected by dementia judge the passage of time differently, and can access distant memories from decades ago while being unable to recall events of the past few hours.
People with dementia judge the passage of time faster than older adults without dementia, as well as younger adults. This is for prospective time perception, where people are instructed to estimate time intervals in the future; and retrospective time estimation, where people judge the time after the event has occurred, which requires them to imagine traveling back in time.
As a practical example, people with dementia seem to underestimate how long they will wait at the bus stop (when asked when the bus will arrive; retrospective time perception) and how long it will take them to get on the bus for a given trip ( if asked while the bus is starting; expected time of perception ).
People diagnosed with dementia may take time due to difficulty remembering all events in a short period of time, creating a sense of empty time travel. A person without dementia might remember the boy riding his bicycle, the yellow car parked by the store, the noisy lawn mower, and the couple playing tennis, on their way to the bus stop; while others with dementia tend to remember these events less, creating a sense that less has happened and therefore less time has passed.
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Relationship between time perception and memory function in people with dementia. Family members often report that loved ones with dementia sometimes live in the past, even reverting to their first language.
This is because memory is not just a process in the brain, but a collection of different systems. People with Alzheimer’s disease may have short-term memory impairments, but long-term memory may be left relatively intact. So they remember public and private events decades ago, but they can’t remember what happened earlier in the day.
A fascinating case study illustrates this dissociation of long-term and short-term memory in Alzheimer’s disease. A retired taxi driver diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease shows remarkable spatial memory in the city of Toronto, Canada, where he drove taxis and worked as a courier for 45 years. This despite showing impairments in short-term memory and general cognitive function.
But while those with Alzheimer’s disease generally remember events in the past better than those in the immediate past, they still do worse than older adults without Alzheimer’s disease at memory retrieval.
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Interestingly, it appears that the events and facts that are most frequently retrieved and used throughout life are those that people with Alzheimer’s Disease remember better later in life, than those encountered at a certain age.
Frequency of use of memory patterns is mirrored in bilingual people with dementia. A friend commented that Yia-Yia (Grandma), who immigrated to Australia from Greece over 50 years ago, spoke mostly in Greek despite having spoken English for almost decades (causing problems for his friends who speak English as a language).
People with dementia often revert to their first language. It usually starts with speaking from the first language that goes out to speaking from the second language. This occurs more often among those who are less proficient in their second language, rather than being related to the age of acquisition of their second language.
So, how did it happen? Perhaps because regular memories rely more on the brain’s cortex, its outer layer, while short-term memories rely more on a structure called the hippocampus. The hippocampus is usually affected early in late-life dementia such as Alzheimer’s disease, and parts of the cortex are affected later.
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Family and friends of people affected by dementia often do not know how to respond when their loved ones rely on these distant memories, in the heart, living in the past. It’s definitely not something these distant memories should ignore or hold back.
Instead of trying to bring people with dementia back to reality, families and carers can try to bring their reality into reality; builds trust and empathy, and reduces anxiety. This is known as validation therapy but many families and caregivers will practice this method without knowing its name.
Reminiscence therapy has also been shown to improve mood, well-being and behavior in those with dementia. It includes discussion about past activities, events and experiences (usually with the help of artefacts such as pictures, music and familiar items).
Alzheimer’s Australia has some great help sheets and phone lines to help carers and family members talk to their loved ones with dementia.
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Nothing can protect us from a future diagnosis of dementia. But a cognitively stimulating lifestyle can delay the onset of dementia. This means using your memory and other thinking skills as much as possible, for example, working on mentally challenging jobs, doing crosswords, and participating in social activities.
The more often we remember and use memories throughout our lives, the more likely we are to have access to them as we get older. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the fifth leading cause of death in the elderly in this country. . It is the only cause of death in the top ten that cannot be prevented, slowed or cured; there are only survivors.
More than 6.5 million Americans aged 65 and older will be living with this condition in 2022, and this number is expected to increase to 13.8 million by 2060. These startling statistics lead to safe -think that every family will be hit or touched by the disease. It was brutal in many ways. I was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease in early 2010, and this is my take on living with AD.
This is a question often asked by dementia patients and their family members. Everyone wants answers, but there are few certainties when dementia is involved. The “experts” do their best to explain all the nuances of the disease, but do the answers match what the patient is going through? Can they really tell you what it’s like to be a person living in this terrible condition?
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Here’s my take on this disease from the patient’s perspective: Things will never get “better.” Sometimes difficult behavior and frustration can be reduced. You will see glimpses of lucidity and your loved one’s old personality from time to time. But, “better” is not possible in this progressive situation. Accepting the Truth is Hard
I’ve read that sometimes the posts on the Caregiver Forum are difficult to deal with – especially those related to dementia care. The stories, questions and struggles shared by caregivers on this platform are raw and real. Caregiving is certainly not for the faint of heart, but can you imagine what dementia sufferers go through in this situation?
What I’m having a hard time dealing with is being aware of the fact that I’m slowly losing my memory. Since my diagnosis a decade ago, I’ve taken my grandson to school and listened to his stories while knowing I probably won’t meet him one day. I may never see him graduate, get married or have children. Dementia set a predetermined outcome for me.
This condition takes only a little from you at first—a few of your short-term memories here and there. Then, slowly but surely, all that is needed. Over time, it will also begin to steal your long-term memories. Eventually, they will all be lost.
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Everyone, you know it’s happening, but you can’t do anything about it. I often wonder what will happen when I can no longer remember who I am or who the people around me are. How’s this? Will I be afraid? I’m more afraid now sometimes? Is that possible?
How many times have I been asked, “How is Alzheimer’s?” I think it’s important for people to understand what dementia patients really go through
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