As people age, the body changes as part of the normal aging process, such as graying hair and loss of elasticity in the skin. Unfortunately, normal aging also causes changes in the brain that can cause people to forget things from time to time, such as where you put your car keys.
Changes in the brain are a normal part of aging.
Normal aging can cause people to forget things occasionally.
Dementia is not a part of normal aging and refers to an impaired ability to think or remember and the inability to make sound decisions.
Losing track of the day or year or not remembering how to get home from a usual place signals a need to see a healthcare provider for a memory check-up.
There is no cure for dementia, but there are treatments available.
Dementia refers to impaired thinking and reasoning due to abnormal brain changes. If daily activities become difficult, such as losing track of what day or year it is or having trouble recognizing well-known people, it is time to see a healthcare provider for a memory check-up.
What is considered normal aging?
As natural aging happens, besides other bodily changes, there are some changes in the brain. For example, there may be a mild decrease in the ability to multitask, to recall words or names, or the attention span may be shorter. Aging may also bring positive cognitive changes. Older adults are proven to have larger vocabularies and a better understanding of the meaning of words than younger people. Older adults can still learn new skills, improve their vocabulary and language, and form new memories.
How does the brain change with aging?
As a person’s brain ages, there are changes in parts of the brain, including structural changes and the way cells, chemicals, and other processes in the brain work. These changes may affect how older adults think. Even in healthy older adults, the changes of an aging brain include:
- Shrinking in certain parts of the brain;
- Nerve cells (neurons) cannot communicate as well as before;
- Inflammation (the swelling from injury or disease) increases;
- Blood flow in the brain slows.
Any of these changes may make it harder to remember things, or an aging person may need more time to complete tasks. Of course, these are normal aging changes, but daily habits and routines can help with reducing their effects. For example, always placing your keys and wallet in the same spot, setting cell phone reminders of appointments, or writing appointments on a calendar in a place sure to be seen (like in the kitchen where breakfast is eaten), and actively engaging the brain by reading or participating in a favorite hobby.
In a normally
aging brain, memories, language, and experiences are undamaged. All a person's knowledge gained over a lifetime remains accessible.
However, should normal activities of daily
living (ADLs) become unmanageable because of things like not recognizing
well-known people, losing track of what day it is, or getting lost in a place
that should be familiar, then it is time to see your health care provider
The inability to manage ADLs can be a sign of disease or illness.
10 warning signs of dementia
The Alzheimer’s Association published 10 dementia warning signs that can indicate the possibility of dementia and merit a visit to an HCP for investigation. Warning signs with examples include the following:
- Memory loss that disrupts daily life. Forgetting recent information or asking the same question over and over.
- New problems planning or solving problems. Trouble working with numbers (doing math) or forgetting how to make a familiar recipe.
- Difficulty with familiar tasks. Forgetting where the grocery store is or the rules of the weekly card game.
- Confusion with time and place. Not knowing where they are or how they got there.
- Trouble understanding visual images. This may cause trouble with balance, reading, and driving.
- New problems with words. May have trouble continuing a conversation, forgetting a word, or calling something the incorrect name.
- Misplacing items and unable to retrace steps. May lose something and cannot go back to where they started to look for it.
- Poor judgment. May have changes in decision-making skills, like no longer being able to handle money correctly.
- Withdrawal from social activities. Stop going to favorite activities or may no longer follow a favorite sports team.
- Mood and personality changes. Becoming confused, irritated, suspicious, or depressed.
There are many types of dementia, and each person may have different signs and symptoms. There may also be other reasons for changes in a person. Seek the advice and evaluation of an HCP for individualized treatment if a friend or loved one is beginning to show warning signs.
What is the treatment for dementia?
There is no cure for dementia yet. However, some treatments may slow its progression, helping to maintain mental capabilities and treat the behavioral changes that may arise. There is no cure for dementia yet.
Some medications may help slow decline or may improve memory and thinking. However, medications do not work for everyone and may not work for all types of dementia. Other kinds of medicine may help with anxiety, depression, or sleep problems that may come as a result of dementia. Furthermore, medications can have serious side effects for some people with dementia. For safety, discuss all medications or supplements with the primary HCP.
In some cases, a person with dementia may need supervision or help with taking medication properly. Some medications may help slow decline or may improve memory and thinking. However, medications do not work for everyone and may not work for all types of dementia. Other kinds of medicine may help with anxiety, depression, or sleep problems that may come as a result of dementia. Furthermore, medications can have serious side effects for some people with dementia. For safety, discuss all medications or supplements with the primary HCP. In some cases, a person with dementia may need supervision or help with taking medication properly.
Therapies for dementia
Different types of therapy may benefit people with dementia.
- Occupational — helps people find ways of doing daily activities in the best way for them.
- Mental health — can help the person with dementia and their family learn to cope with the emotions and behavioral changes of dementia.
- Speech — helps with speaking clearly and with problems swallowing.
- Music or art — can help reduce anxiety and increase feelings of well-being.
How to stay healthy and active
There are steps you can take to help maintain your physical and mental well-being. The National Institute on Aging recommends these steps:
- Take care of physical health;
- See an HCP regularly and get the recommended screenings;
- Limit alcohol;
- Quit smoking;
- Manage chronic conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes, depression, and high cholesterol;
- Get enough sleep;
- Eat healthily;
- Exercise regularly;
- Keep the mind active by reading or participating in games or a hobby;
- Stay socially connected.
Focusing on these steps will aid with overall well-being. Doing even five minutes of exercise or activity each day helps. Start small and make one thing a habit, then build on that by choosing another activity to add to your day. Step by step, you will become healthier.
- National Institute on Aging. How the Aging Brain Affects Thinking.
- Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience. Normal Aging Induces Changes in the Brain and Neurodegeneration Progress: Review of the Structural, Biochemical, Metabolic, Cellular, and Molecular Changes.
- CDC. About Dementia.
- U.S. Department Commerce, U.S. Census Bureau. Demographic Turning Points for the United States: Population Projections for 2020 to 2060.
- National Institute on Aging. Participating in Activities You Enjoy As You Age.