Although many older adults are able to continue living healthy and independent lives, certain cognitive changes are fairly common with age. As you get older, you might notice that you’re more forgetful than you used to be or that it takes you a little longer to process language. Mild cognitive impairment can be frustrating, and you may have to make some adjustments in your living environment or routine to accommodate. For many seniors, though, early cognitive decline doesn’t cause major challenges with daily functioning or quality of life. However, illnesses like Alzheimer’s disease and dementia can cause more serious and rapidly progressing signs of age-related cognitive decline.
It’s important that you check in with yourself and your cognitive well-being so that you know whether or not to be concerned about your health. You should understand what age-related cognitive decline is, what the most common symptoms are, and what you can do to preserve your cognitive health as you age.
What Is Age-related Cognitive Decline?
Age-related cognitive decline is any decrease in mental functioning, including tasks such as language, memory, judgment, and executive functioning. All of these mental skills are critical for success in daily life, but your mind may age alongside your body. Cognitive decline isn’t the complete loss of these abilities, but it can lead to slower processing or increased cognitive mistakes.
Some degree of cognitive decline is normal and expected with age. Just like it can become more difficult to complete certain physical tasks, your brain may have a harder time with cognitive tasks. This experience is known as mild cognitive impairment, and in most cases, it doesn’t severely interfere with daily life. Your friends or family may point out small changes in your cognition, or you might feel like your mind isn’t as sharp as it once was. In general, though, mild cognitive impairment shouldn’t have a dramatic effect on your ability to socialize or complete your daily tasks.
Some seniors remain in a state of mild cognitive decline for the rest of their lives. Some see an improvement in their symptoms, and some experience worsening cognitive problems. If cognitive decline becomes more severe, it might be a sign of Alzheimer’s or dementia. These conditions can cause more significant cognitive issues that affect your overall health and wellness, and you may start to require a higher level of care.
Signs of Cognitive Decline
The early signs of cognitive decline are often very subtle, and you may not even notice that you’re experiencing them. Being aware of the symptoms of elderly cognitive decline will help you stay alert for your own health and the health of your loved ones.
The following are the most common age-related cognitive decline symptoms:
You ask the same question multiple times.
Everyone loses track of a conversation from time to time, but if you find that you frequently repeat questions, it might be an early sign of cognitive decline. Your friends or family may point this out to you, especially if it happens more than once.
You often lose track of the date or forget appointments.
If you’re not typically a forgetful person, missing appointments or other important events could indicate cognitive decline. Memory issues are some of the most common problems for seniors who are experiencing cognitive decline, and repeatedly missing appointments or forgetting what day it is are concrete signs of a lapse in memory.
You have a hard time making plans or completing tasks.
Cognitive decline can affect your executive functioning, which includes all of the skills involved in planning, remembering, and executing tasks. Whether you’re preparing for a big event or completing a daily self-care activity, your executive functioning skills allow you to get the work done. Cognitive problems can make it more difficult to make plans and put all the pieces together to complete these tasks, though. You might find it overwhelming to plan your schedule or make a to-do list, and you may notice that you get confused or distracted in the middle of a task or activity.
You get lost in familiar or frequently visited locations.
Elderly cognitive decline doesn’t just affect your internal thought processes. It can also affect the way you experience the world around you. Getting lost frequently is a major sign of cognitive issues, especially if you start getting lost or confused on routes that you travel all the time. You might only feel lost for a brief moment before you get your bearings again, especially if you’re only experiencing mild cognitive impairment.
Your eating or sleeping habits have changed.
Changes in eating or sleeping patterns are common signs of a wide variety of physical and mental health issues. If you notice a drastic change in your habits with no explanation, cognitive problems may be playing a role. For example, you might feel fatigued and sleep much more than usual, or you might miss meals because of decreased appetite.
You feel more anxious, agitated, or overwhelmed than usual.
For some older adults, cognitive decline leads to emotional symptoms. Anxiety, depression, agitation, and other emotional concerns may have other root causes in seniors, so these problems don’t necessarily indicate cognitive impairment. However, when you feel like your mind isn’t functioning as quickly or efficiently as it once did, it’s normal to feel anxious or upset.
What to Do if You Notice the Signs of Age-related Cognitive Decline
Cognitive decline is sometimes progressive, but not all older adults see their symptoms worsen. If you’re worried about your cognitive health, there are plenty of steps you can take to keep your mind sharp.
Your first step is to speak with your physician about your concerns. Sometimes, cognitive impairment in seniors is caused by a treatable health problem. Identifying an underlying cause could help to reverse the symptoms. Even if your symptoms are just a natural part of aging with no specific cause, your doctor can recommend lifestyle changes that will benefit your cognitive health.
Staying active and social is key for protecting your mind in your senior years. Try to connect with friends and family regularly, and attend social outings or other events when possible to get a change of scene and add variety to your schedule. Physical exercise can be very beneficial for your mental and cognitive health as well.
Some seniors find cognitive puzzles very engaging and enjoyable. For example, jigsaw puzzles, crosswords, and word searches all challenge your memory and attention to detail. Card games and board games are also mentally stimulating, and they provide an opportunity for social interaction.
If your concerns about your cognitive health are starting to affect your mood and your daily functioning, counseling may be a valuable experience. Therapy provides an opportunity to engage in in-depth conversation, which is incredibly helpful for your mind. Additionally, you and your counselor can explore your thoughts and feelings about the changes that come along with aging.
Blue Moon Senior Counseling offers therapy services for older adults who are facing age-related cognitive decline, mental health disorders, stress, grief, and other challenges. You can contact us today to learn more about our services.