The brain and dementia.
The brain of a person suffering from dementia is damaged. How does dementia affect the brain and cause the symptoms of the disease?
The 4 levels in the brain.
In a nutshell, the brain can be divided into 4 levels, which in their turn can be separated into the subcortical and the cortical brain.
The 2 lower levels make up the subcortical brain, or the emotional brain. The lowest layer, the sensory brain, is responsible for the reception of simple sensory stimuli, whereas the second lower level processes the stimuli. At this level the amygdala causes emotions to come into existence, for example the so-called fight or flight reflex.
The cortical brail consists of the two upper levels and is called the thinking brain. This part of the brain processes the more complex tasks. At the third level emotional consciousness is developed.
Here the healthy brain gives meaning to things around us.
At the lower levels emotions occur, but in the thinking brain emotions are conscious and can be thought about before any action is taken. Finally, at the fourth and highest level of the brain the various brain functions come together. We are aware of our surroundings and ourselves and we can make choices to act responsibly.
Dementia damages the thinking brain as well as the top level of the subcortical brain.
Fight or flight
The thinking brain accommodates many cognitive functions along with the memory. Because the thinking faculties slowly disappear when people suffer from dementia, they grow more and more fearful while they increasingly depend on the emotional brain. If people suffering from dementia experience something, which at first they thought was scary as being not scary at all in reality, they are not able to store this experience in the memory. So they can get anxious about things that happen perhaps every day, time and again. When people are afraid they can either fight or fly. But residents can also behave aggressively because of their anxiety.
The brain and dementia
There are more than eighty-five forms of dementia, of which Alzheimer is one. In the final stages of dementia, the weight of the brain can have decreased from 1,500 to 300 grams. This ‘loss’ mainly takes place in het thinking brain. As a result people tend to behave more and more impulsively. This behaviour is triggered by external and internal stimuli. Nowadays an average person receives a larger number of stimuli per day than an average medieval person in his whole life. People with a healthy brain can shut themselves off from this overdose of stimuli, but people suffering from dementia cannot. Thus they become restless and can be aggressive and can behave in an undesirable way. This is a natural reaction according to Dr A. van der Plaats. She says that the more a brain is damaged, the more the behaviour of that person depends on his or her surroundings. The environment can be positive or negative. If it’s positive, it will prompt positive behaviour, and vice versa.
Too few stimuli
People suffering from dementia need an environment with dynamic stimuli. Too many stimuli will arouse agitation, as will too few stimuli. Residents will search for stimuli when there’s a lack of them and they will start wandering, which is a well-known phenomenon in care homes. They can’t deal with silence either. Residents don’t like to be in their own room, because there are few stimuli there. Even at night they might be wandering because they haven’t had enough incentives during the day to be able to sleep well.
It’s essential to make sure the environment of people with dementia contains enough stimuli and a relaxed atmosphere. This will help to lessen behavioural problems, such as aggression. It will also not only improve the quality of life of residents, but it will also decrease the workload for care home staff.
Kozie helps to create a favourable environment by means of products that bring about sufficient stimuli. KozieMe allows residents to evoke stimuli themselves. When they touch the KozieMe pillow, they hear familiar sounds. Would you like more information about creating stimuli by means of the Kozie product? Please contact our team!
‘De wondere wereld van de dementie’ byAnneke van der Plaats and Bob Verbraek.
‘Het beschadigde brein’ – by Karin Schokker