BY GAIL SHAW — Certified Dementia Care Specialist –

Everyone’s brain is affected differently by dementia.  Research says there are over 80 different types of dementia.  Alzheimer’s is the most common form and is said to affect up to 80% of those living with memory loss.

It should be noted, dementia is not a normal part of aging.  It is a disease that affects the brain.  As we age, a healthy brain will respond but at a slower pace.  So, it is good to know not everyone who grows old will develop dementia.

Many have heard of Alzheimer’s or dementia and believe it only affects one’s memory. The reality is much broader.  Individuals living with a dementia will not only face losing their memory, but it will also affect their social skills, intellect, emotions, behavior and judgement.  In the end, they will need total care since they will not be able to care for themselves due to all the losses.

So how can we better explain this disease and how it affects the brain?  One way is to look at the bookcase example. The Dementia Friends Program uses this illustration to explain the process to those attending one of their community outreach sessions.

For right now, let’s imagine a 70-year old woman who has dementia and has a full bookcase beside her.  Each book inside the bookcase represents one of her skills or memories.

On the top shelves are her memories of facts and her skills for thinking in complex or complicated ways.  Lower down within the bookcase, just like they are in the lower or inner part of the brain, are the emotions and feelings.  This is the instinct area of the brain.  Feelings like love, happiness, frustration and sensing respect reside here.

For people with dementia, the top or outer part of the brain is damaged first.  In our bookcase example, these skills are the books on the top shelves.  Skills like math, using language, judgement and keeping one’s behavior in check are in this part of the brain.

When dementia rocks the woman’s bookcase, the books on the top shelf begin to fall out first.  The woman may not remember what she ate for breakfast, or that she must pay for items at the drugstore or that someone came to visit her this morning.  She will show signs of having a harder time making appropriate decisions.

As the dementia continues to rock her bookcase, she will lose more and more of her skills, knowledge and abilities.  The books that represent the instinct area of the brain tend to stay on the lower shelf for a much longer time.

Dementia robs individuals of many things, but it does so gradually.  The factual and emotional parts of the brain are lost at different rates.  No matter what is lost, it is still possible for people living with a dementia to have a good quality of life.

St. John’s Community Care offers a variety of support groups, an Adult Day Program, and educational opportunities.  Give St. John’s a call (618-344-5008) to see how we can help you and your loved one living with a dementia.