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Cognitive Aging & Dementia

Cognition is a term that describes thinking processes, memory and mental abilities. Cognition dynamically changes across the entire lifetime. For healthy older adults, it is normal to experience some cognitive decline that may be noticeable but does not interfere with daily life.

What is Dementia

Dementia is an umbrella term that describes meaningful cognitive decline that interferes with everyday activities. Dementia is typically determined following cognitive, or neuropsychological, assessment as part of a clinical disease diagnosis, such as Alzheimer’s disease. Dementia can present with poor declarative memory, working memory or executive function. The type and severity of cognitive impairment directly relates to the parts of the brain affected by the specific disease.

Dementia is different from normal aging. Some cognitive decline occurs in normal aging and not all forgetful moments are a sign of dementia.


Early Signs of Dementia

One of the challenges in identifying dementia is that the clinical condition develops over time and cannot be distinguished from normal aging until impairments become severe enough to interfere with daily activities. A good way to monitor your cognitive health is to have regular appointments with your primary care physician and talk about any changes in your thinking and memory ability.

Early signs of dementia include:

  • More forgetfulness than normal
  • Difficulty making plans or solving problems
  • Recurring disorientation or confusion with dates and places
  • Trouble completing familiar tasks
  • New problems with words when speaking or writing
  • Frequently misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
  • Changes in mood and personality, or withdrawal from social activities

If you are concerned that you or someone you know may have dementia, consult a physician and ask for a cognitive assessment. Your physician may ask about your recent sleep quality, diet, alcohol use, and mood, and will review possible side effects of medications. These factors can cause temporary cognitive impairment and a physician will work to rule out these as possible causes that are not due to dementia.

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