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Jan 3, 2022
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Academician Piradov: Memory is the main function of the brain

Academician Piradov: Memory is the main function of the brain

What is dementia and why it is growing all over the world, what are its first signs and can it be avoided, what exercises are there for those who do not want to face this formidable diagnosis, – the director of the Scientific Center of Neurology of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Academician Mikhail Piradov tells our readers.

– Mikhail Alexandrovich, what is dementia?

– Dementia is a cognitive disorder. The very word “dementia” comes from the Latin “madness” and is characterized by the loss to one degree or another of previously acquired knowledge and skills, as well as the difficulty or impossibility of acquiring new ones.

Dementia is not a congenital, but always acquired condition, which is the decay of functions such as memory, thinking, understanding, speech, counting, event analysis. Most often, dementia develops after the age of 60 and is steadily progressive.

The first symptoms of dementia are a decrease in working memory. Dates of meetings are forgotten, some of their plans, promises are not fulfilled, they put something and forgot where – if such phenomena are of a systemic nature, you need to sound the alarm. In addition, headaches, sleep disturbances, and emotional lability may be among the first signs of the disease.

There are several types of dementia – cortical, subcortical, mixed and multifocal. It is the first form of dementia that includes, in particular, Alzheimer’s disease.

– So Alzheimer’s disease is one of the most common forms of dementia?

– Yes, together with vascular dementia. Alzheimer’s disease accounts for up to 65-70% of all dementias, the second – about 10-12%. In addition, dementia can be accompanied by other diseases, such as, for example, alcoholic encephalopathy, Parkinson’s disease, intracranial volumetric processes. But much less frequently than the first two conditions.

– What are the signs of dementia?

– First of all, it is a violation of short-term memory. Memory is one of the main, if not the main functions of the brain. If it is significantly impaired, the person is sick. In addition, dementia is characterized by a violation of abstract thinking, a violation of orientation in place and time, difficulty in recognizing friends and relatives, helplessness in performing a number of simple actions – that is, everything that is called social maladjustment.

– What causes dementia?

– There are many reasons. Due to the increase in the life expectancy of the world’s population, primarily in developed countries, the number of people with the main types of dementia is constantly growing. According to the WHO, in 2015 there were more than 46 million people with dementia worldwide. In 2017, that number increased to 50 million. About 8 million new cases are reported each year, each of which places a heavy burden on families and health systems. This number is expected to rise to 131 million by 2050.

“So dementia is on the rise. Is it true that she is getting younger?

– We cannot say that. There are no such statistics. Yes, there are young people with dementia who suffer from alcoholism or who have had serious illnesses with brain damage. But compared to the two main types of dementia, their number is small.

At the same time, we see that over the past ten years, there are more and more people around us who are much older than 80 years old, who are quite adequate, lead an active lifestyle, go in for sports, and travel. Recently, I watched with great pleasure a 92-year-old academician who cheerfully ascended the podium and no less cheerfully told us about a number of interesting things. This process, I am sure, will continue.

The more a person trains his memory, the more intensively his neurons function, and since the brain is dominant over all our other organs, this contributes to the fact that people who memorize large texts, read a lot, prepare lectures, actively think – live long and keep in good physical and mental shape. Therefore, recommendations to learn foreign languages, poems, phone numbers, even if they are recorded in your smartphone.

– Who is at risk for dementia?

– The origin of vascular dementia is not fully understood. We can say the same about hypertension and atherosclerosis, which often lead to this pathology.

There are many theories of the origin of Alzheimer’s disease, which, according to statistics, affects every third person after 85 years, but the causes of this pathology are unknown until the end. Despite the regular appearance of new hypotheses and discoveries in this area, there are no breakthroughs yet, as well as effective methods for the prevention and treatment of this condition.

As before, the last two conditions are the main causes of death in the world, primarily in developed countries, while infectious diseases are still in the first place in others. Moreover, measures for the prevention of atherosclerosis and hypertension are well known. With regard to atherosclerosis, these are statins, which, although they act to a certain extent on the liver, significantly reduce the level of atherosclerotic plaque formation, which narrow the blood vessels. As for arterial hypertension, now almost every home has blood pressure monitors, there are a huge number of drugs, and it is only a matter of a person’s desire or unwillingness to take care of their health. Of course, a healthy lifestyle, a comfortable situation in the family and at work, playing sports, and a positive attitude are also important.

– What measures are there to prevent dementia besides memory training?

– Exercise, which is beneficial because it improves blood flow to the brain and helps keep our neurons working. Of course, there are stimulants that do boost certain brain functions for a while. In some cases, folic acid is recommended.

If you do not talk about pharmacology, then there are simple, but very effective methods. For example, try to do everything with your left hand if you are right-handed, and vice versa. It’s a powerful brain shake. You can try walking around the house with your eyes closed or blindfolded. You can try to navigate in the dark without turning on the lights. It also affects memory and other important brain functions.

“I know you are researching memory and even experimenting to improve it. Are there any results?

– In our recent studies, using navigational transcranial magnetic stimulation, we were able to increase the memory capacity of volunteers by about 20%. I think these opportunities can be increased further.

The scientific and technological revolution is changing the world before our very eyes. If earlier a person who had suffered a severe stroke could no longer hope for a significant improvement in motor abilities, now, with the help of modern robotic, computerized devices, a significant recovery of movements becomes possible. We have performed a number of studies for the first time in the world, in particular, in patients with strokes, with multiple sclerosis, to restore motor function and reduce spasticity. And they achieved good results.

Natalia Leskova

Photo: Adobe stock

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