What is Retrogenesis aka Age Regression in Dementia Patients?
The Retrogenesis theory refers to “the process by which degenerative mechanisms in dementia reverse those of normal human development” (Reisberg, et.al, 1999) or more simply put: returning to a former or less developed state of human development.
Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and related conditions have long been noted to resemble “a return to childhood”
The different stages of AD mirror the developmental landmarks of children.
Patients with MILD Cognitive Decline = Developmental Age 8 to 12+ years
- Stage 1. No difficulty at all
- Stage 2. Some memory trouble begins to affect job/home. Forgets familiar names.
- Stage 3. Much difficulty maintaining job performance. Withdrawal from difficult situations.
- Diversion Activities: Can function with understanding. Enjoy things they have always enjoyed – watch TV, play and listen to music, play games.
- Stage 4. Can no longer hold a job, plan and prepare meals, handle personal finances, etc. Driving becomes difficult although can drive to familiar places.
- Diversion Activities: Can still enjoy simple games, watch TV, and view videos. Enjoys family photos and memories.
Patients with MODERATE Cognitive Decline = Developmental Age 2 to 7 years
- Stage 5. Can no longer select proper clothing for occasion or season. Needs help to remain safe at home. Forgets to bathe.
- Diversion Activities: Needs age appropriate toys and games
- Stage 6. Requires assistance with dressing. Can no longer use the toilet without assistance. Urinary/Fecal incontinence.
- Diversion Activities: Enjoys many of the same activities as preschoolers
Patients with SEVERE Cognitive Decline = Developmental Age newborn to 15 months
- Stage 7. Speech now limited to six or less words per day. Can no longer walk, sit up, smile, or hold up their head.
- Diversion Activities: Enjoys infant toys, mobiles, dangling ribbons
The functional stages of AD precisely and remarkably recapitulated the acquisition of the same functional landmarks in normal human development. Subsequent work indicated this developmental recapitulation also applied to the cognitive and related symptoms in AD. Remarkably, further investigations revealed that the same neurologic “infantile” reflexes, which mark the emergence from infancy in normal development, are equally robust indicators of corresponding stages in AD. Neuropathologic and biomolecular mechanisms for these retrogenic processes are now evident. For example, the pattern of myelin loss in AD appears to mirror the pattern of myelin acquisition in normal development. Also, recent findings indicate mitogenic factors become reactivated in AD, and, consequently, the most actively “growing” brain regions are the most vulnerable. Because of this robust retrogenic process, the stages of AD can be translated into corresponding developmental ages (DAs). These DAs can account for the overall management and care needs of AD patients. A science of AD management can be formulated on the basis of the DA of the Alzheimer’s patient, taking into consideration differences of AD from normal development as well as homologies.
– (Reisberg, et.al, 2002)
Sources: Stress Busting Program & National Library of Medicine Evidence and mechanisms of retrogenesis in Alzheimer’s and other dementias: management and treatment import; National Library of Medicine The comparison of cognitive and functional performance in children and Alzheimer’s disease supports the retrogenesis model; and Retrogensis.
We hope this information is helpful to you in the important work you do as a family caregiver.
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