The human brain is one of the most intricate and complex things in existence. It gives us the ability to see, learn and think. It gives us personality. And it does all this in a relatively small package. Modern supercomputers that occupy whole warehouses can’t do half the things that our brains can do, and those that are fairly close to mimicking personality and human characteristics are nowhere near as efficient or compact as our brains.
So, you may wonder, how does it do this? How is it so compact? Well, in our brains there are around 100 billion neurons, and this results in around 1 quadrillion synapses (junctions between neurons). This means that theoretically in our brains we can store around 2.5 petabytes of data and can retain this data for years and years.
But this seems like it is a recipe for disaster. With such a complicated system there are bound to be a lot of problems and complications, and indeed there are.
There are countless numbers of diseases and disorders that can happen to your brain, such as Parkinson’s disease, stroke, schizophrenia, encephalopathy (general term for brain disease), cancer, multiple sclerosis, autism, epileptic seizure, you get it, the list goes on. But in my opinion, one of the most cruel and tragic things that can happen to a person is dementia.
Contrary to what many people think dementia is not a disease. Dementia describes a set of symptoms that may include memory loss and difficulties with thinking, problem solving or language, and is caused by a disease such as Alzheimer’s (most common cause of dementia).
In Alzheimer’s, dementia is caused when abnormal proteins surround brain cells and damage their internal structure. This results in the brain cells dying and the connection between the cells breaks, causing a loss in memory and more.
At first there are small symptoms such as day to day memory loss, and difficulty with problem solving. But this then progresses to more profound memory loss, i.e. not remembering loved one’s names or events that happened recently. In the later stages of dementia, the person loses all psychomotor skills, they cannot communicate, and they require assistance with some of the most basic activities such as going to the toilet or eating and drinking.
The advanced stages of Alzheimer’s (also known as the end stages) are in my opinion what characterises this disease as being very cruel and sad. Towards the end, the person is bedridden and loses all forms of basic communication, such as speaking or even smiling. This can be very difficult for the family of the person, as the person that they once knew has forgotten anything, and cannot look them in the eye and recognise them or have a conversation. The person loses nearly all personality and is reduced to a fraction of what they used to be.
Because of the fact that the person is bedridden, they are much more vulnerable to complications such as blood clots, urinary tract infections and much more. This results in many fatalities because of the disease, and is the leading cause of death for elderly people. The average time before a person passes away from when they are diagnosed with dementia is around 8 years, making Alzheimer’s a terminal disease.
But the saddest part is the fact that once you have dementia, there is no cure or even drug that can slow the effects of the symptoms, and to this day there are no survivors of Alzheimer’s or dementia. And the sad truth is that not enough people see it as such a bad thing, most people see Alzheimer’s as just memory loss. But if people saw dementia for what it really is, I truly believe that there could be much more progress in finding a cure or at least a drug that slows down the effects, for this cruel disease.
To conclude, dementia is one of the most common things to happen to the elderly, and contrary to common belief, it isn’t a ‘natural’ part of ageing (i.e. not everybody gets it), there have been cases of dementia as young as 27. Around 200 years ago, dementia was nowhere as prevalent in society, and this is because of the fact that people did not live to be as long as we do now. But what will happen in the future, when we find a cure to cancer and dementia and heart disease. When people will live to be 150, What will happen then? What horrible illness will happen to us? And is it even worth living to that age?