Why do people with dementia forget things like people/events, but not things like the alphabet or relatively simple grammar? Or do they, and it’s just not really shown in western media?


Why do people with dementia forget things like people/events, but not things like the alphabet or relatively simple grammar? Or do they, and it’s just not really shown in western media?

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The longer the memory stays, the harder it is to erase. Dementia damages more recent memories first. So a person you met 30 years ago will be forgotten before the alphabet you learned 80 years ago. And if dementia progresses so much that you forget the alphabet… well, you’d be a vegetable at this point.

They absolutely do. My grandmother suffered with Lewey Body Dementia for around 5-6 years before she died. At first she just became a bit scatty and have slightly incoherent trains of thought which we all just blamed on old age. The first sign that something was really wrong was when she started struggling to put basic sentences together in English and she would start switching more and more back to her mother tongue of Hindi. Eventually she stopped making sense in Hindi too. But in quite late stages of her dementia she would start trying to recite poetry.

Dementia can also affect you not just mentally but physically, parts of your body just simply stops responding to your brain.

They definitely do. That’s just how it starts. By the end, they forget how to eat, how to get dressed, how to go to the toilet.

There’s no set path of how dementia will affect an individual, people suffer in many different ways.

Its mainly the intellectual part of the brain that goes first, but when dad was in the nursing home other patients ranged from almost catatonic to others you might mistake for visitors rather than patients.

Some were placid, some angry, some wouldn’t eat, some were frantic.
Some didn’t change for years, some were gone in 6 months.

Dad didn’t know who we were for years, but one day I walked in and he said to the others ‘Ah, my boy is here, he’ll sort it out…’

For some it seemed worse for the family than the patients. but some were terrified and lived their last days in fear.

Awful disease, but there are no hard and fast rules.

They do. Look up late/end stage dementia. They can be completely nonverbal and completely dependent for care

They do eventually.

Each dementia case is a bit different, but generally, more recently memories are lost first. Things that are extremely well established in your brain from an early age – the alphabet, how to read and write, your parents names and faces, your own name and birthdate – will be the hardest to erase, and many dementia patients remember those kind of things well into late stage dementia when all is lost.

In the late stage of dementia, my great grandmother could still remember and enjoy Casablanca and It’s A Wonderful Life, movies she’d loved and seen over and over as a young woman, and through her life. This was at a point where she had begun to struggle with talking because she forgot so many words that her sentences had become childlike and muddy, and she’d long forgotten how to dress herself and how to wash. She struggled to recognise her own children (I think them all being in their 50s/60s confused her, because she had no memory of them growing up), but she still recognised Humphrey Bogart.

It’s not really about the type of memory, it’s about how early it was established, and how well it was reinforced. It just happens that things like the alphabet are established extremely early and reinforced *constantly*.

Extremely late stage dementia patients eventually forget even those things, and by that point are essentially in a vegetative state. Most dementia patients die of age-related illness before that point, though.

Your brain is a complex map of networks. Some paths to memory have many roads to access it and some have only a few or a single road.

Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease and starts destroying these neural networks basically with the accumulation of plaque.

Imagine Alzheimer’s as the bombing of a city and each road/ network is a memory. At the beginning even during the bombings you can still move freely through the city and only a few roads have been destroyed. Eventually your access becomes more and more limited. You stop being able to access certain locations altogether. Popular locations (long term memories) have many access points so for a while you use the backroads/other access points but eventually those get bombed too.

Given enough time, the entire network will be destroyed.

That’s why it’s important to build large and sustainable cities of memories and neural networks. The more you learn and challenge yourself in life and stay healthy, you give your brain a better chance to sustain an attack. A person with a limited educational background is at higher risk of the disease.

Because imagine you have a small rural town compared to a huge urban metropolis. If both of those places start having a few bombs the rural town might be completely decimated very quickly while in the metropolis it could very well go unnoticed for a long time (and in a metropolis new roads would be being regularly built so they might even outpace the bombing altogether); ie some people will live a full life never knowing they even had the disease. They’ve discovered brains at autopsy that were riddled with plaque yet the person had no immediate symptoms/ impaired memory loss. Which means they had a huge metropolis and were able to withstand the bombings of some of the roads within their thriving city.

Every brain and network is different.

My grandmother had a long bout with Alzheimer’s before she passed.

Near the end she forgot English all together. She could only speak Ukrainian.

They do. They eventually forget how to articulate sentences, then words. Eventually they forget how to swallow, and this is what ultimately kills them, if pneumonia or some other earlier complication doesn’t kill them first.

Source: am an MD.

It depends on the kind of dementia, but it can cause difficulty with speech, especially word recall. One of the most frustrating things for my grandfather, who had Alzheimer’s, was when he knew what he wanted to say but couldn’t figure out how to say it.

In addition to this, there are different kinds of memory. The memory we use to store skills and knowledge is different to the memory we use to store experiences, so theoretically you could have someone with dementia who is fluent in multiple languages, but can’t remember how they became fluent in them. In dementia, it’s the experience type memory that tends to suffer the most damage, particularly to more recent memories, whereas skill and knowledge memory typically remains more complete. Damage is also common to the way the brain creates new memories, which impacts both experience and knowledge memory creation, but is more apparent in how it affects experience memory creation since it’s easy to see if someone can remember what they did yesterday, and relatively difficult to see if they’ve learned a new skill recently.

I saw a documentary about dementia or Alzheimer’s, there was a woman who seemed kinda normal, but in a doctor’s exam she was asked to draw a clock face from memory and… it was such a mess… wow. So sad really.

They forget that too. I worked with a guy who had forgotten the difference between eating and drinking.

It depends on the person. My grandpa has Alzheimer’s. He can’t do simple math or write. He can barely read. He can’t tell time. Yet, he usually knows who his family members are (for now).

Dementia is a broad term.
There are many diseases under it.

Some affect memory more than others.

I’m a direct support professional and one of my clients is autistic with dementia, she remembers lots of stuff but the dementia made her very violent and she used to have a great internal clock and that’s just gone now. But her memory isn’t too bad she just isn’t sure where she is in time. Dementia is different for everyone when it’s rots different parts of your brain away.

Did Terry Pratchett not get afflicted with a form of dementia that affected his ability to read and write?

Typically* dementia affects short term first, almost like moving backwards through time. Which is why a lot of dementia patients/sufferers believe it is a much earlier year than it is – 1900s compared to 2000s for example.

*not always the case as there are hundreds of different types of dementia, only 100% diagnosable post mortem.

Different areas of the brain do different things. Where the greatest damage is occurring will play a large role in determining how the dementia progresses.

My grandmother had dementia and she would frequently get frustrated because she couldn’t remember the words to say what she wanted to say.

They do forget things like that towards the end. Dementia’s a rather slow process, you get worse year after year, and after a few years there’s not really a lot left of your memory. If it goes on for long enough, the brain doesn’t even remember how to eat or breathe.