A Comparison between the Normal Aging Brain and a Brain Suffering from Dementia
As a person ages, most of his body organs start to lose their normal function. Aside from physical changes such as growing white hair, developing facial lines, and increase in prominence of the veins, the aging person also experiences several illnesses and diseases. The most common among these sicknesses include arthritis, hypertension, osteoporosis, cardiovascular diseases, and type-2 diabetes, among others.
In addition, old people also experience other forms of regression such as impaired hearing, poor vision, and slow response to external stimulus. Furthermore, people who are of old age find it difficult to combat most sicknesses because their immune system or their natural line of defense has also degenerated with their age.
Moreover, any physical degeneration and susceptibility to sickness usually begins with the regression of the brain. As people grow old, the brain cells slowly die which is usually the main cause of decrease in cognitive function such as hearing, memory and, perception. However, a certain disease of the brain called dementia is commonly confused with the normal aging of the brain. In this connection, this research paper will point out the distinguishing changes between the brain of a normal aging person and the brain of a person with dementia.
Overview of Dementia
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, dementia is a collective term for a group of symptoms caused which are by disorders and illnesses that affect the brain. It is basically characterized by slow yet progressive degeneration of cognitive functions such as memory, problem solving, perception, focus, and communication, among others.
People with dementia usually have very poor memory and forget a lot of things such as where they live, where they were supposed to go etc. Moreover, people diagnosed with the disorder also experiences extreme difficulty analyzing information, maintaining attention, and talking to other people.
The most common and characteristic symptom of dementia is memory loss. However, people suffering from the illness may also exhibit other symptoms such as fast mood swings, noticeable difficulty in pronouncing words, inability to do things or tasks he or she is very familiar with, drastic changes in personality, disorientation, placing objects where do not belong to, and poor judgment(American Academy of Family Doctors, 2007).
For example, people who potentially have dementia may place a mobile phone in a freezer or a bowl of soup or use the wrong words in a conversation.
Since dementia is a brain disorder, it is initially caused by significant destruction of brain cells. It can also be caused by a stroke, a major head injury, or a brain tumor.
However, since dementia, by definition, is basically a collective name for a group of brain disorders, there are several diseases and illnesses affecting the brain that cause it. Some of these diseases can be reversed through medication and treatment while others cannot.
One of the most common diseases associated with dementia is Alzheimer’s disease, which basically affects the part of the brain that controls language, thinking, emotion, and behavior. Although there is no true cure for Alzheimer’s, the disease is currently the mildest form of dementia as patients generally respond well to medications which somehow enable the person stricken with the disease to at least carry out his or her normal activities.
However other common causes of dementia that are irreversible, meaning that there is no known cure to treat or even lessen the effects of the disease. These include severe head injury resulting to unconsciousness, Parkinson’s disease, which is an illness that affects a person’s movement, Dementia with Lewy Bodies, which creates protein deposits in brain cells thereby affecting short-term memory, and frontotemporal dementia, which can cause personality and behavioral changes (American Academy of Family Doctors, 2007).
In addition, there are also rare irreversible causes of dementia like Huntington’s disease, which is an inherited disorder that causes degeneration of certain parts of the brain and causes uncontrollable movement, mad cow disease, tertiary syphilis, and Binswager’s disease, which occurs in people with high-blood pressure, among others (American Academy of Family Doctors, 2007).
However, aside from diseases, several conditions have also been identified to cause dementia or dementia-like symptoms. These conditions include reactions to medications, metabolic defects, nutritional deficiencies, certain infections, poisoning, endocrine problems, and anoxia and hypoxia, which are oxygen supply disorders of the brain, among others (National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, 2007).
Doctors basically diagnose dementia by checking the patient’s medical history, performing a physical exam, and assessing the patient’s medical condition through an interview. In most cases, doctors only diagnose dementia if there are more than one brain dysfunctions.
Moreover, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, there are certain tests that doctors use to screen patients who are potentially suffering from dementia. One example of these tests include the Mini Mental State Examination, also called the Folsein test, which is basically a questionnaire consisting of 30 items that assesses the cognitive abilities and functions of the patient.
In addition, laboratory tests are also done to help diagnose dementia. These include complete blood count, Vitamin B12 test, blood glucose test, thyroid hormone level assessment, urinalysis, cerebrospinal fluid test, and alcohol tests (National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, 2007). Basically, laboratory tests are done to rule out other possible diseases or conditions and improve the accuracy of diagnosis.
Furthermore, dementia, being a brain disorder, is also diagnosed through neuroimaging such as computed tomography (CT) scan and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) (National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, 2007). The images obtained from these procedures basically show if the patient’s brain has abnormal conditions such as change in pressure and build up of fluid, among others. These images also help the doctor in determining whether or not the cause of dementia is a stroke or a tumor.
Generally, there is no treatment or medication yet that would completely eliminate and reverse the devastating effects of dementia. Since dementia is basically a group of diseases and illnesses, what doctors do is focus on treating those specific diseases. However, although several drugs and medications are available, these do not stop the effects of dementia but only slow the brain regression.
Differences between Dementia and Normal Brain Aging
Like a person with a dementia, the brain cells of a normal person also die as he or she ages. This is the reason why most aged or old people commonly experience a decline in cognitive functions such as loss of hearing and memory.
While a normal aging brain has similarities with a brain suffering from dementia, the two are very different in a lot of aspects.
According to the National Institute of Aging, normal aging of the brain basically refers to natural changes occurring in the brain, such as the decline of memory and hearing and eyesight loss, without the presence of a disease. In addition, other cognitive functions such as speaking and naming may remain unchanged.
On the other hand, dementia refers to changes happening to the brain that are directly associated with a disease or a number of diseases. Moreover, since dementia is a progressive disease, nearly all cognitive functions are affected and if left untreated, the person afflicted with the disease may entirely be unable to function normally and may require assistance in doing the simplest things (National Institute of Neurological Orders and Stroke, 2007).
Basically, the main difference between dementia and normal brain aging is that the former is characterized by the severe impairment of two or more brain functions without loss of consciousness while the latter is usually characterized by a single brain dysfunction or none at all.
In addition, the brain disorders and decline in cognitive functions are more severe in dementia as compared to normal brain aging. A person with dementia can become severely disoriented and even forget what street does he or she live in while a normal person may merely forget the names of the people he or she knows from time to time.
In other words, although both cases involve destruction of brain cells, dementia is basically pathological in nature while normal aging is not.
The bottom line is that most of the time, people with dementia lose the ability to perform normal and daily functions due to the drastic decline in almost all cognitive functions resulting from severe brain damage. On the other hand, people who age normally do not necessarily suffer from severe brain damage and are basically able to perform normal daily functions.
Over-all, based on the main points of the paper, it can be surmised that dementia is a group of diseases that cause brain dysfunction and abnormal while normal brain aging refers to the decline in cognitive functions in the absence of a disease.
Moreover, dementia causes devastating effects to nearly all cognitive functions to the brain, such as memory, perception, hearing, vision, and judgment while normal brain aging affects only certain cognitive functions.
In other words, the main factor that causes the changes in normal aging is the age of the person itself while the factors affecting dementia not only includes the age of a person but also a number of diseases.
The researcher recommends to future people who would want to study dementia and other brain-related diseases that further research be done on the structure of the brain and multiple factors affecting it.
Furthermore, since this research paper only focused on dementia in general and not its multiple forms, it is also recommended that more studies be conducted on these other forms, especially the irreversible ones which include Huntington’s disease, frontotemporal dementia, and Binswager’s disease.
Moreover, since there is no cure yet for dementia, the researcher also recommends that further studies be done so that an effective treatment, which would significantly reverse or remove the effects of dementia, would be developed and made commercially available.
American Academy of Family Physicians. (2007). Dementia: What are the Common Signs. Retrieved November 29, 2007, from http://familydoctor.org/online/famdocen/home/seniors/mental-health/662.html
National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke. (2007). Dementia: Hope Through Research. Retrieved November 29, 2007 from http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/dementias/detail_dementia.htm
National Institute on Aging. (2007). Forgetfulness: It’s Not Always What you Think. Retrieved November 29, 2007 from http://www.niapublications.org/agepages/forgetfulness.asp