Dementia – Part 4

Memory: there are 3 basic types of memory, immediate, short term and long term.

Immediate memory is whatever you are doing right now, which for you currently is reading my blog!!  It is what you’ve done in the last couple of minutes, but not much longer than that.  It is the current task that you are undertaking.

Short term memory is what you did a few hours ago, what you ate for your last meal, what you did this morning, if it is lunchtime or the afternoon.

Long term memory is what you did longer than a few hours ago, it can be as long as what you did decades ago.  There are caveats to this, in that emotional memory works like long term memory.  So things that have huge emotional significant, so the birth of your children and the day you got married, even if in the short term will act like long term memory.

The pattern of memory loss is different for different people, we are all individuals!  Usually short term memory is the first to go and as this starts to get worse, then long term memory will start to be affected as well.  People with dementia can then sometimes have difficulty remembering what they had for breakfast, but know where they lived when they were ten.

Sometimes the loss of long term memory is in the order that the memories were made, so it is as though they are retreating into their past.  It can create issues where a child looks like their parent and the parent with dementia gets flirtatious with their child, believing them to be their spouse.  The person with dementia can look in the mirror and see their parent or grandparent, as they don’t recognise themselves as an older person.  Sometimes they just look in the mirror and see a stranger.

There are different functions of the brain, including an ability to recognise something and a separate ability to abstractly understand how that works and what it is.  I once met a lady who held out her hand with a 50p in it, she asked me if it was worth a pound.  I spoke to a Consultant Psychiatrist about this and he said that with dementia this can happen.  She had recognised it, she knew what she saw, but she lacked the understanding of how it functioned in the world and therefore did not know its value.  Dementia usually leads to a loss of this kind of ability to plan and think abstractly.

Dementia is grim, it is a very cruel disease and robs people of their dignity, it is lonely and isolating and we all need to be understanding and supportive to those that have the condition and to those families that care for someone with dementia, it is hard on everyone.