What Causes Memory Disorders?

Monday 25 January 2021
Memory loss

Table of Contents


I. The Location of Memories in the Brain

II. Types of Dementia

a. Alzheimer’s Disease

b. Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease

c. Lewy Body dementia

d. Vascular dementia

e. Mixed dementia

III. Common Warning Signs of Dementia

IV. Diagnosing Dementia

V. Treatment


The Location of Memories in the Brain

Throughout our lives, our brain processes thousands of memories. As we age, memories from decades past may fade or disappear, but dementia or Alzheimer's may be present if you begin to lose simple short-term memories as well as long-term.

The amygdala is the area of the brain where memories are formed. This part regulates emotions like fear and aggression. The amygdala, hippocampus, cerebellum, and prefrontal cortex are all involved in memories. [1]

Dementia is a brain disease that results in the erosion of memories, thinking, and the ability to perform everyday activities. This disease is chronic and progresses over time. Age, genetics, and environmental factors play a role in the development of this condition. As one of the leading causes of disability worldwide, dementia is a serious condition that can severely impact the lives of the people affected and their caregivers. If your doctor determines that you are experiencing dementia, they may prescribe Aricept (donepezil), Namenda (memantine), or Namenda Solution (memantine). [2]

an animation of the inside of a person’s skull

Types of Dementia 

Alzheimer's and dementia are often thought of as different memory disorders, but Alzheimer's is a type of dementia. Dementia is an overarching term for loss of memory and mental ability, and Alzheimer's is the most common form of the disease. 

a. Alzheimer’s Disease

Plaques and tangles in the brain can cause nerve cells to lose connection. When this occurs, the hippocampus gets damaged, affecting the ability to form memories. With Alzheimer’s disease, brain damage is widespread and brain tissue shrinks. [3]

b. Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease

This type of dementia occurs unusually fast. It occurs when a prion protein in the body folds into an abnormal three-dimensional shape that occurs in the brain and destroys brain cells. The rapid decline involves involuntary muscle movements, confusion, mood changes, and difficulty walking. This type is rare and affects one in a million worldwide. [4]  

c. Lewy Body dementia

Lewy body is the third most common cause of dementia and accounts for five to ten percent of all cases. This type is diagnosed when alpha-synuclein proteins are present in the brain. These proteins make up Lewy bodies. This type of dementia involves hunched posture, rigid muscles, a shuffling walk, and trouble initiating movement. [5]

an animation of a brain neuron

d. Vascular dementia

A lack of blood flow to the brain can damage important cells. Vascular dementia may occur after a stroke in which a blockage affects major blood vessels in the brain. Thinking skills are most commonly affected with this type and may lead to widespread brain damage. [6]

e. Mixed dementia

In many cases, Alzheimer’s can coexist with vascular dementia and lead to brain changes. Lewy bodies may also be present in several different types of dementia. [7]

Common Warning Signs of Dementia

As mentioned above, each type of dementia may create unique symptoms. The majority of dementia symptoms occur slowly, so you may not notice symptoms initially if you are around someone at risk for dementia. The symptoms will become more and more severe, but you should look out for the following general signs: 

Cognitive changes:

  • Confusion and disorientation
  • Memory loss
  • Difficulty communicating or finding words
  • Problems reasoning or problem-solving
  • Problems handling complex tasks
  • Problems planning and organizing

Psychological changes:

  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Hallucinations
  • Depression
  • Personality changes
  • Inappropriate behavior
  • Paranoia [8]

a person clutching at their clothes

Diagnosing Dementia 

It may take several visits to the doctor before dementia is properly diagnosed. Your doctor will likely perform several tests to confirm that you are experiencing dementia and not another similar illness. Your doctor will review your medical history as well as your symptoms. Your doctor will perform:

  • Cognitive and neuropsychological tests: measures thinking skills, including memory, orientation, reasoning and judgment, and language skills.
  • Brain scans: CT, MRI, and PET scans can check for evidence of brain abnormalities
  • Psychiatric evaluation: a mental health professional will determine if you have depression or other mental health conditions alongside your other symptoms
  • Neurological evaluation: your memory, visual perception, attention, movement, senses, and balance will be evaluated [8]

Treatment

There is no cure for dementia or any of its types, so treatment focuses on managing symptoms. A combination of therapies and medications are often used in conjunction to improve the quality of life. Cholinesterase inhibitors like Aricept (donepezil) boost levels of chemical messengers in the brain to improve memory. This drug can be used for Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, vascular dementia, and Lewy body dementia.

You may also be prescribed Namenda (memantine) or Namenda Solution (memantine), which work by regulating glutamate. Glutamate is a chemical messenger that assists in important brain functions like learning and memory. Along with medications, you may also undergo occupational therapy to learn coping behaviors and prevent accidents at home. It is essential to simplify tasks if you have degenerative dementia. Having the help of a caregiver, friends, or family greatly helps those suffering from this disease. Talk to your doctor to determine a successful treatment plan for your dementia condition. [8]

The content in this article is intended for informational purposes only. This website does not provide medical advice. In all circumstances, you should always seek the advice of your physician and/or other qualified health professionals(s) for drug, medical condition, or treatment advice. The content provided on this website is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.