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Space Dementia: Fact or Fiction?

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posted on Mar, 2 2007 @ 02:40 AM
The idea of space dementia was made popular by the movie Armageddon when Steve Buscemi’s character basically “lost it” and was diagnosed by his fellow astronaut Colonel William Sharp: “My God, he's got... space dementia…” He said it with so much conviction that we all accept it as something real. Matter of the fact is that “space dementia” is pretty much a debated topic amongst space buffs. Even the knowledgeable Wikipedia has very little to say about it:

“A disease characterized by mental instability and irrational behavior. Typically, its onset is seen only in those people who have a natural predisposition to the disease and only after they enter outer space. There are no known ways of detecting space dementia prior to space travel. Only mild cases of space dementia have been reported as of yet, and as a result some have postulated that the disease does not actually exist. However, due to the small sample size of people who have spent time in outer space, medical experts have not yet ruled out the existence of the disease.”

You won’t even find anything on the topic on NASA’s site:
NASA Search

Is space dementia yet another of NASA’s secrets? Recently we saw some very bizarre behavior from astronaut Lisa Marie Nowak. She supposedly drove 900 miles from Texas to Florida in a diaper to avoid pee breaks, where she pepper-sprayed Captain Colleen Shipman and allegedly may have had more shenanigans in store for her rival. It was all purportedly about the affection of another, fellow astronaut.
Article 1
Article 2

You’ll say that she may just have been nuts to start with… Well, keep in mind that astronauts undergo extreme psychological test before being accepted into the space program. They didn’t pick up a possible mental case prior to the space flights?

In Armageddon we saw Steve Buscemi’s character duck-taped to a chair after he went nuts. The truth is actually stranger than fiction. In NASA’s guidelines for space station emergencies and crisis’s there is also guidelines on how to handle mental breakdowns… What should be done when a fellow astronaut goes bonkers? Astronauts are instructed to bind the stricken flier's wrists and ankles with duct tape, restrain the torso with bungee cords and administer strong tranquilizers.

The directions for dealing with a psychological emergency are included in a 1,051-page NASA document titled the International Space Station Integrated Medical Group Medical Checklist. The checklist, which was written in Russian and English, was compiled in 2000 and 2001 to coincide with the permanent staffing of the space station. The complete manual/guidelines can be found here:
NASA Guidelines (Expect to download about 23 MB’s)

What does it tell us? That NASA is well aware of the possibility of the possibility of a mental breakdown (or space dementia?) in space or that they just want to cater for every possible scenario of things that can go wrong?

But what exactly goes wrong when an astronaut gets the supposed “space dementia”. If we look at the definition of dementia:

The loss of intellectual functions (such as thinking, remembering, and reasoning) of sufficient severity to interfere with a person’s daily functioning. Dementia is not a disease itself but rather a group of symptoms that may accompany certain diseases or conditions. Symptoms may also include changes in personality, mood, and behavior. Dementia is irreversible when caused by disease or injury but may be reversible when caused by drugs, alcohol, hormone or vitamin imbalances, or depression.

and further

Mental deterioration due to physical changes in the brain.

We see that most importantly the brain is physically damaged, and is not just psychotic behavior or a personality disorder. Can space travel potentially damage the human brain? Again, an astronaut goes through vigorous training before an actual space flight. Most of the training simulates every possible condition they’ll experience in space travel. Thus if the human brain can be damaged by conditions in space, then it should/could already happen during the training?

And now comes in the twilight zone part. Does extra terrestrial life have a hand in “space dementia”? Or vice versa. Does space dementia explain why some astronauts “see” alien spacecraft and other strange things, because they’re actually crazy? Then again, many of the astronaut sighted UFOs were caught on film. And if we look again at the symptoms of dementia we see that it includes memory, attention, language, and problem solving. Nothing about hallusanations. Could it thus be that aliens actually “zapped the astronauts with a raygun to erase their memories”? Pretty crazy stuff huh?

Personally I strongly doubt that aliens go around zapping human astronauts to erase encounters from their memories. But space dementia is a very strange topic, and the lack of information on the topic makes it of course even more mysterious.

Is it purely fiction? It’s not very clear where the idea of space dementia originated, and we know it goes back a couple of years… Didn’t Buzz Aldrin have a breakdown? (Return to earth, by Buzz Aldrin.) There was a psychotic mental break aboard Salut 5 shortening the Soyuz 21 mission. (More) Or is it a fact? Does the human brain “collapse” because it can’t handle the whole weightless experience? Or perhaps something more sinister?

posted on Mar, 5 2007 @ 08:17 AM
Seeing that the thread was just moved from another (sub)forum as requested - I'm going to *** Bump *** into it... Purely by accident.

posted on Mar, 5 2007 @ 09:31 AM
I'm not sure I'd read too much into the individual words in the phrase, nor into the planned-for scenarios that NASA makes. They sit around thinking of wild possibilities so that they can make plans for them, just like the military does.

Sometimes that pays off; no one ever really expected to have to ride the LM home as a lifeboat, but that plan paid off.

If there's something that CAN go wrong with a crew member, I imagine that they've made a plan for it, from stroke, to appendicitis, to food poisoning. It would be irresponsible to assume that you could NEVER have a crew member suffer from some sort of mental illness or delirium.

At any rate, a true dementia takes a while to develop. If such a thing existed, it would more likely be a delirium. You get all sorts of hormonal and electrolytic changes in freefall, I could at least see the possibility of that causing problems when combined with all the stress.

posted on Sep, 20 2008 @ 07:01 PM
I came here to find out is it true or fiction, and after reading this I still don't know.

posted on Sep, 21 2008 @ 04:35 AM
" space dementia " is UTTER TWADDLE

however having got that out ,

HPNS - high pressure nervous syndrome , a very real condition that can affect divers who work @ extreme pressure

could low pressure / micro gravity affect brain chemistry - undobtedly

altitude sickness is again a very real phenonemon - but what will be the effect ???

going back to HPNS - in real life unlike fiction it does not cause psychosis [ a pox on mr cameron and the movie ` abysss ` for claiming that it did ]

submariners and other personel in ` similar ` environments are screened for tolereance to the ` pressures ` of thier environment

" cabin fever " in various forms affects people to varying degrees - both in real and fictional situations

but in most fictional portayals of psychological dysfunction - the fiction is most acute , characterised by ALL the ` std ` markers , and manifests ` instantly `

unlike most real case histories

so yes - its perfectly possible that low pressure / hi oxygen and a micro gravity environment - may have long term affects on brain chemistry / physiology - leasing to psychological dysfunction

the affects of micro gravity on bone composition have altready been documented

but ` space dementia ` no - its a silly fictional plot device

any real effect will be far more long term / insidious and factor multiple causes

[edit on 21-9-2008 by ignorant_ape]

posted on Nov, 13 2008 @ 09:21 AM
reply to post by ignorant_ape

Good post. It'd be interesting to see what effects prolonged exposure to such an enviornment has on the oxygen supply in the brain. Might it affect one's risk for alzheimer's and other forms of dementia later in life, particularly if you already have genetic risk factors that predispose you to problems? Alzheimer's is characterized partially by reduced blood supply to the nerve cells in the brain, due to the effects of amyloid beta. We know that spaceflight causes a reduction in red blood cell mass, called space anemia. It takes about 6 weeks to recover after returning to the ground, and you can lose as much as 15% of your total of red blood cells, because you don't produce as many while in weightlessness. Many of the astronauts who have spent the longest in space have done so relatively recently, so we have yet to see how this may affect their risk for cognitive impairment later in life. So yes, there may yet be a kind of "space risk for dementia," but if there is it will not manifest until much later in life.

[edit on 13-11-2008 by ngchunter]

posted on Nov, 13 2008 @ 09:33 AM

Space Dementia: Fact or Fiction?

The title of the thread sounded like "space" itself, forgets.

posted on Nov, 13 2008 @ 10:39 AM
I found an interesting article from 2006 about this subject:

Mars mission Risk 29: Radiation-Induced Brain Damage

Among the gravest risks of a manned flight to Mars ranks the possibility that massive amounts of solar and cosmic radiation will decimate the brains of astronauts, leaving them in a vegetative state, if they survive at all.

Dubbed "Risk 29" by NASA's Mars scientists, the cosmic radiation risk remains a show-stopper because shielding a spacecraft from all radiation could make it too heavy to reach Mars, which, at its closest, is 38 million miles from earth.

Now, medical scientists have been tasked to determine the human brain's maximum safe cosmic radiation dose and to decipher precisely how radiation causes cognitive impairment, part of a quest for biological countermeasures to reduce radiation-related cognitive impairment.

The NASA-funded $14-million research project could not only help eliminate the risks to astronauts, it could unravel the biomechanics of brain damage, potentially benefiting patients with degenerative neurological conditions like Alzheimer's disease.

"This research may not only help make it safer to go to Mars, it could lead us to a deeper understanding of how the brain functions," said one of the principal investigators, Richard A. Britten, Ph.D., associate professor of radiation oncology and biophysics at Eastern Virginia Medical School (EVMS) in Norfolk, Va. "That eventually could help patients dealing with conditions that cause dementia."

CT scan of brain with Alzheimer's disease

And here is a scary case of space dementia for you, from Stanlay Kubrick's masterpiece "2001 - A Space Odessey". Daisy, Daisy...

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