Although dementia is an umbrella term that describes a wide range of symptoms, including changes in behaviour, thinking and physical ability, most people only associate dementia with memory loss. This is because memory loss is often one of the first signs of dementia, especially in Alzheimer’s disease.
A memory is something that we remember from the past. Memories shape who we are, and they help us build our identity.
The process of remembering involves 4 steps:
We know that certain parts of the brain are important for certain kinds of memories. We also know that we remember things better if they are important to us. Memory problems can be caused by something going wrong at any of the four stages.
There are lots of different types of memory. Depending on what type of dementia someone has, these will be affected differently.
Dementia causes damage to brain cells. Over time dementia tends to damage an increasing number of cells. Some of these brain cells are involved in the memory process. When they become damaged an individual may experience memory loss.
One area in the brain that is affected early on in Alzheimer’s disease is called the ‘hippocampus’. We know that this area is really important for forming new memories. Therefore, someone who has Alzheimer’s disease may struggle to remember new information and may not remember things that happened recently.
Dementia can also cause an individual to experience stress, anxiety, depression and sleeping problems. All of these factors can worsen or even cause memory problems.
Next week, I will talk about how memory loss impacts everyday life and what we can do when someone with dementia experiences memory loss.
This article is based on research publications and information from well-known organisations in the dementia space. Sources include: