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How Dementia Changes the Brain

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Memory is tangible, so when someone has dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, changes begin to occur inside the brain that impacts the ability to recall events, names, and even skills correctly. These brain changes can be classified in two ways: structural and chemical. Our memory care specialists in Sussex County, NJ will go over both structural and chemical changes, what they mean and how they may affect your senior loved one with dementia.

Structural changes that happen in the brain

Dementia conditions are progressive, which means they worsen over time. While researchers don’t know what causes these conditions or how to stop them, they have been able to study how the disease progresses. Essentially, parts of the brain become damaged – specifically, the neurons that communicate with the nerve systems in the body and the brain tissue itself. The brain actually shrinks in size, often reducing to 1/3 of the original size.

Healthy brains work to repair themselves as everyday damage or wear and tear occurs, but this doesn’t happen when the damage is caused by a dementia condition. This is because the oxygen and blood flow to these parts of the brain are reduced, blocking the flow of nutrients and oxygen that cells need.

As its cells are damaged, brain function is reduced. This impacts memory, but also other parts of the nervous system controlling metabolism, problem-solving, communication, thought generation, and physical movement/coordination.

At the same time, people with dementia suffer from inflammation of the brain. While inflammation can be helpful in response to trauma, ongoing inflammation like this increases the damage to the brain. It creates a cycle where cells dying triggers inflammation and the inflammation causes more cells to die. It also increases the presence of certain proteins that scientists believe are responsible for Alzheimer’s disease and other similar memory conditions.

Chemical changes that occur in the brain

Our brains and bodies run on chemicals that tell our organs, nerves, muscles, and glands what to do and when to do it. These chemicals carry tiny electrical charges that trigger activity on a cellular level, triggering our ability to think, walk, speak, remember, and much more.

When someone has a dementia condition, this communication breaks down. This is thought to be caused by the presence of two proteins called beta-amyloid and tau. We’re not sure why these proteins occur, but we can see how they damage the chemical interactions in the brain.

Beta-amyloid causes a type of plaque to form on the brain’s neurons. This plaque essentially covers the neurons up so that they can’t communicate well with one another, creating a block between thoughts and movement. It also disrupts an important protein that communicates with the hippocampus, our center for creating new memories.

Tau works differently, creating twisted strands of protein that tangle through the cell and neuron networks. This works a bit like a strangling plant vine, cutting off supplies of oxygen and nutrients to the affected neurons and spreading throughout the brain – killing cells in the process.

Memory care in Sussex County – Supporting dementia residents at every stage

When your loved one is diagnosed with dementia, it can be overwhelming, scary, and sad to think about what’s next. It takes a strong support system and professional memory care to navigate the road ahead successfully. If you find yourself in this position and would like to learn more about memory support for seniors with Alzheimer’s, it’s time to talk with our Tapestries team at Bristol Glen.

We’re part of the United Methodist Communities network and provide specialized memory care to seniors in New Jersey. Our goal is to help seniors with dementia conditions to experience a fulfilling, active, and abundant life through treatments, cognitive exercises, and meaningful social experiences.

Contact us today for more information on our memory care services in Sussex County or visit our website at

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    200 Bristol Glen Drive

    Newton, NJ 07860

    Phone: 973-300-5788

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