There’s no doubt that getting older brings many changes, including processing information at a slower rate and experiencing increased difficulty multitasking. Such things are a normal part of aging and they don’t necessarily impact our independence significantly.
“It may take longer to shop at the grocery store or change a battery in a TV remote, but we still remember how to do it,” explains Dr. Leslie Minna, InnovAge’s national director of behavioral healthcare services. Routine memory, skills, and knowledge remain stable as we age and, in some instances, may even improve
What is not normal is severe cognitive decline that limits your ability to complete daily tasks. “There’s a difference between forgetting where you put your cell phone and walking around your neighborhood of 30 years and not knowing where you are,” says Minna.
What is Dementia?
Dementia is not a disease. Many people use the word to describe the loss of cognitive ability as we age. In 2013, it was renamed major neurocognitive disorder
, or MDN, to reduce the stigma associated with the condition.
“It’s now an umbrella term to describe a decline in cognitive abilities that have a negative impact on our daily activities,” says Minna. “It includes a group of symptoms such as disruptions in language, memory, attention, recognition, problem-solving, and decision making.”
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of major
neurocognitive disorder affecting more than six million people
in the U.S. By age 85, about one-third of adults
have some form of MND.
Lower Your Risk
While risk factors such as age, race, and family history can’t be changed, you can take action in other areas to help reduce your risk
for cognitive decline by up to 40 percent. These should sound familiar, because they are part of a healthy lifestyle and can help prevent certain cancers, heart disease
, and Type 2 diabetes
. They include:
When to See a Doctor
- Stay active – physically and socially. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, moving your body can help with improved thinking and can reduce the risk of depression and anxiety. Social interaction with friends, family, and your community may also help delay the onset of cognitive decline.
- Stop smoking to help your brain health and reduce risks for smoking-related illnesses such as lung disease, heart disease, and cancer.
- Eat well, incorporating a good dose of vegetables and lean protein.
- Treat hearing problems, as an inability to communication can lead to cognitive decline.
Knowing when to see your physician is important for early detection and diagnosis. Symptoms
of neurocognitive disorders include difficulty with finding words, problem solving, and confusion. Other warning signs are changes in personality, variations in emotional state (depression or anxiety), erratic behavior, or even paranoia.
“If these types of changes are impacting your ability to manage your regular daily activities,” says. Minna, “then it’s time to see a healthcare professional.”
Many diseases and conditions can bring on these types of symptoms. A diagnosis of a cognitive disorder like Alzheimer’s disease can be overwhelming. “Early detection can play a critical role in identifying the right type of treatment for each individual,” explains Minna. “It also enables a person to more fully participate in discussions with their primary care provider and loved ones to communicate their preferences and map out a care plan for the future.”
This post was medically reviewed by Ann Wells, M.D.