Many people believe that dementia is a normal part of aging – that loss of mental capacity is an inevitable part of late life. This is a fallacy that, unfortunately, contributes to a great deal of negative stereotyping of seniors in American culture. While some cultures revere the elderly and look to them as the possessors of wisdom, many Americans tend to assume that all seniors become feeble-minded or senile. The reality is that a very small percentage of seniors develop debilitating cognitive disorders.
Dementia is a pervasive deterioration of intellectual ability that occurs over an extended period of time. Memory loss is the symptom most common in dementia and is typically the first cognitive change noticed. Dementia also affects an individual’s: orientation to place and time; language functioning; ability to think abstractly and solve problems; power to evidence good judgement; visual and spatial ability; and personality.
While dementia is not a normal part of aging, some cognitive changes do occur as a normal part of growing older.
First, the most common cognitive change is a decline in speed of mental processing. The speed with which adults are able to take in and process information declines with age. On tests of general mental ability, seniors generally score lower than young adults. However, when given extra time to complete tests, discrepancies in performance between younger adults and seniors disappear.
Secondly, since learning of new information into memory storage is slower, seniors may be less able to “store” new material that is presented rapidly. This process may also be responsible for a slight decline in ability to learn new information in late life. So, it may take seniors longer to recall information.
Which brings me to a favorite pet peeve of mine. Have you ever had someone leave you a voice message and then, at the end, never understand their telephone number? Why it is that people leave a slow, distinct message to only end the message with a rattled off telephone number that leaves me thinking – they know their telephone, but now I don’t?
Third, reaction time is slowed, which may have implications for performance of activities that require rapid shifts in attention, such as driving a car, for some seniors.
It is important to note that these changes are minimal in normal aging, and do not generally impair the daily functioning of seniors.
How do we prevent age-related memory loss? Some basic steps include daily exercise (I’ve attended a sports center since I graduated from college) which includes cardio, weight training swimming and other forms of exercise, a balanced diet (my Pepsi and Chocolate addictions do not fit here), vitamins, and a lifetime of learning (I’m constantly taking college courses on something from history to science).
Happy Holidays and Make it a great day!
For more information on senior or homebound care, visit www.InHomebyChoice.com or call (765) 361-0600. Home by Choice has offices in Crawfordsville, Frankfort and Lafayette and is now serving Greencastle, Lebanon, Rockville and Covington.