In the past, studying the brain was a mysterious science. However, new technologies and scientific advancements in the field of cognitive neuroscience have allowed scientists and researchers to understand more about the how the brain works – specifically, how the brain is affected by dementia. Let’s take a closer look at what dementia is, and what cognitive neuroscience has taught us about this disorder.
What Is Dementia?
Dementia is a term used to describe a decline in mental ability that is severe enough to interfere with daily life. Dementia occurs as a result of damage to a person’s brain cells that interferes with the brain cells’ ability to communicate with each other. When brain cells are unable to communicate normally, it can affect someone’s thoughts, behavior, and feelings.
The brain has many different areas that are responsible for different functions (memory, judgment, and movement). If cells in a certain part of your brain are damaged, then the functions of that part of your brain can be affected. Loss of memory is just one example of the mental abilities that can be affected. The most common type of dementia is Alzheimer’s.
Advancements in Science and Technology
Thanks to modern science and technology, neuroimaging methods such as MRIs and PET scans allow researchers to study living brains to understand more about dementia – such as who is at a higher risk of developing it – even years before any symptoms present themselves. Advancements in genetics and biochemistry have come a long way in helping to identify how genes, proteins, and fats in the blood change before and during dementia.
In addition, stem cell research helps gather more realistic models of dementia that can be personally tailored to individual patients to effectively target treatments.
Lessons on Dementia
The following are some things experts have learned about dementia through the field of cognitive neuroscience:
In dementia and other degenerative brain disorders, something goes wrong with a certain type of brain protein, making it clump together. This clumped brain protein forms disruptive, cell-damaging fibrils and solid deposits in between brain cells. New treatments involving these faulty proteins are currently being tested and showing some promise.
Dementia can be affected by immune changes such as inflammatory reactions, which is why infections and autoimmune diseases can make cognitive symptoms worse.
Connection to the Body
Disorders in other parts of the body, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease, can increase a person’s risk of developing dementia. Some risk factors like genetics and age are inevitable. However, in an effort to prevent dementia, researchers have been exploring the impact of other more controllable factors, such as a good diet, exercise, not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, and keeping lower levels of blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar.
Treating disorders in the body, as well as making healthy lifestyle changes like diet and exercise, is good for the brain. It can help reduce the risk or slow the onset of dementia. A good rule of thumb is that what is good for your body is also good for your brain.
Dementia Starts Early
Research suggests that dementia may start to develop years before symptoms appear, which is why some drugs may fail clinical trials (by the time treatments begin, damage may have already been done). This is why prevention, detection, and early intervention of dementia is so important.
The Future of Dementia and Cognitive Neuroscience
Cognitive neuroscience sees dementia as a whole-body disorder, rather than just a brain disorder. While it’s true that the field of cognitive neuroscience has not yet found a cure for dementia, it has answered many questions. These include: who is likely to develop dementia, what can be done to lessen the chances of developing dementia, things that can help improve or worsen symptoms, and when and to whom treatments should be targeted. It offers hope that one day, dementia can be delayed, prevented, and even cured once and for all.
Neurosurgery Expertise in Colorado
If you suspect that a loved one is suffering from dementia, Front Range Spine and Neurosurgery can help.
Experts in the field of neuroscience and neurosurgery, our board-certified neurosurgeons and medical staff are here to offer you comprehensive, patient-centered care to help you achieve the best possible outcome.
To request an appointment at one of our multiple locations in Colorado, call (303) 790-1800 or use our online form.