This is one of the best definitions and analogies of dementia I have ever heard. It is written by Dr. Steven Rubin, M.D.
“ “Dementia” means “without mind.” Visualize your brain as a tree. In tree systems, the roots, trunk, and branches work together to carry life to and from the leaves. The smaller and farther away the branches and leaves are from the main trunk, the more vulnerable.
Similarly, the brain is composed of branches and networks of blood vessels, large and small, in addition to branches and networks of nerve tracts and cells. The smaller and farther away blood vessels are from the main arteries, the more vulnerable they are.
Short term memory cells are like leaves. Long term memories and nostalgia are stored in the brain’s branches. Dementia occurs when enough leaves wither and die. Dementia advances as branches retreat.
Like viewing the crown of leaves adorning an old tree, closer inspection of the brain will reveal its defects. Based on location and extent of damage, some areas undergo significant loss, while others remain relatively intact.
Medically, dementia can be defined as a degenerative disease of the central nervous system. It usually worsens over time, although sudden changes can occur. Permanent declines eventually cause a person to become unable to safely manage their own care.
Dementia is a syndrome, a combination of brain-function deficits that are irreversible, and includes memory and intellectual losses, confusion, paranoia, irrational judgment, and erratic behaviors. People’s personalities, moods, and demeanors can change. They consciously or unconsciously offer excuses to cover up an increase in mistakes they begin to make (the term for this is “confabulation”).
As the disease progresses, affected individuals might fail to identify places, things, or people known to them. They may not even recognize themselves. They are unable to understand or express information and language adequately. Self-care skills, even the most basic, begin to wane.
With further decline, individuals might become uninhibited and anxious, aggressive and childlike. Mental or cognitive incapacitation occurs. Persons with advancing dementia can become inadvertently dangerous to themselves and others.
Normal aging often includes losses in memory, physical and cognitive agility, and declines in sensory functioning, such as hearing and vision. True dementia involves the failure to effectively and safely care for one’s own hygiene, nutrition, finances, and mobility.
At its core, dementia is a disease of lost communication. The body and brain stop effectively communicating with each other. The person cannot coherently receive incoming communication from the outside world or sufficiently express his or her world perception to others.
It is a culmination of significant declines in one’s physical, emotional, mental, cognitive, and behavior areas of life. Ultimately, dementia robs people of their memories, faculties, and finally, life.
We return to our roots.”
-Dr. Steven Rubin, M.D.
What Is True For Me
The practical and medical side of Dr. Rubin’s explanation is brilliant. The fourth sentence at the beginning of the article, “The smaller and farther away the branches and leaves are from the main trunk, the more vulnerable,” and his very last sentence, “We return to our roots,” put my perspective about Alzheimer’s and dementia beyond the veil.
On the woo-foo level, my interpretation is that the farther away we are from the Source, (some may call that God, or some, the Universe), the more vulnerable we become. In this case, for me, “Vulnerable,” means, “without grounding.” If we do not have Faith or a belief in some thing or of some kind, we do not grow personally or spiritually. For me, this means an untethered soul.
Returning to our “roots” suggests “back into the ground;” i.e., “dust to dust, ashes to ashes.” However, I, personally, go a bit farther and feel that we return Home. We return to the Source from which we came. Some may call this Heaven, or God, or the Universe.
I listen and read books and audiobooks from many resources: doctors, specialists, fiction and non-fiction authors, researchers, spiritual teachers, and the like, and on many topics.
However, it is in the caring of my Mom with Alzheimer’s that opens my heart. The knowledge I receive as I learn about this disease and its effects on the human body and mind, along with the facts and principles therein, all help me through the difficult circumstances and lessons I experience with Mom on a daily basis. All of them contribute to my own growth both personally and spiritually. Because of this, one of my mottos is, “To do this job honorably, we cannot help but grow personally.”
Not everyone chooses to see caregiving this way. I understand that, and that is perfectly fine. I will never ask or expect, anyone to adopt my philosophies. You can take what I offer and if it resonates in your own heart, super. You are free to then add it to the way you think and respond. In my writings through Forgive and Forget, I always try and relay the message that what you do is the product of your own conclusion, not mine, or anyone else’s.
Today’s offering is the practical side of dementia, as well as the woo-foo analogy. My hope is that the practical explanation written by Dr. Steven Rubin, will give you a more precise understanding of how dementia works in the human body; however, I cannot help but hope that this wonderful woo-foo analogy may open your heart on more levels than just one.