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Imagine Dementia Like a Bookshelf to Better Understand Your Loved One

It can be so difficult to understand how your loved one’s mind works under the influence of dementia. The bookshelf example presented by Dementia Friends in the video below may help.

Remember, everyone is unique. One person may be affected in a different area of the brain than another person, which may cause entirely different symptoms, and along with that come different struggles.

But for many, this analogy is surprisingly accurate.

Imagine your brain is a bookcase. Your earliest memories are at the bottom. Your most recent memories are at the top, and you’re constantly adding new ones. All of the facts you know, the memories you have, the skills you’ve acquired. They’re all individual books on a shelf in chronological order.

Now imagine dementia is like a storm, a force that comes along, hits the shelf, and rocks it back and forth.

When the bookshelf rocks, the top moves more than the bottom, so the newest memories fall off first, while childhood memories on the bottom of the bookcase most often stay put.

When the storm ceases, the afflicted person can begin to try to put the books back on the shelf, but it isn’t as easy as it was to stock the shelves the first time around. The top shelves are particularly hard to reach, and some of those memories may never be replaced.

Now imagine that bookcase is actually two bookcases. One is flimsy and holds all your factual memories. This is the hippocampus, where you store memories of what has happened and the facts you know. The other is sturdy and holds all of your emotional memories. This is the amygdala, where your feelings about the stuff that is stored in the hippocampus live.

Because the first bookcase is not very sturdy, the memories of things that have happened are rocked off the bookshelf very readily. However, memories of the way these events made the person feel are not so easily moved.

For more detail on how this analogy could help the caregivers of people with dementia make practical decisions for their loved ones, check out the video.

A simple change of mindset could drastically impact how you think about and care for your loved one with dementia. The good news is that there are more breakthroughs like this in our future, and you can help. Donate to help fund Alzheimer’s research and care, so that we can continue to learn more about Alzheimer’s and how to care for those living with it.

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Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?