Cognitive Aging Is Not Always Alzheimer's


11a.jpgThe specter of Alzheimer's haunts many aging adults, creating worries that basic memory slips mean that full-blown dementia is in their future. While Alzheimer's has justifiably received significant attention in recent years, people are often too quick to assume that any kind of cognitive impairment is Alzheimer's. A new report from the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies takes a look at the whole concept of cognitive aging.

Entitled Cognitive Aging: Progress in Understanding and Opportunities for Action, the report is available in a free pre-publication pdf here. As it explores the issue of cognitive aging in some depth and is created by medical professionals, it is not necessarily an easy read for lay people, but it does raise several issues which many older adults and their adult children should think about.

  • Cognition is more than memory. Memory lapses and loss are most strongly identified in the public mind with cognitive decline, but cognitive health also encompasses a wide array of abilities that come together to determine how individuals process information and respond to that processing.

  • Cognitive aging is normal. Living is all about change. The body and the mind change from the day one enters the Earth until the day one leaves it. Therefore it makes sense that cognitive processes should change as one ages. Issues arise only when, due to Alzheimer's or other factors, the degree of change during senior years is advanced to a point that it causes significant difficulties.

  • More tools are needed. As with so many scientific concepts, the more we learn about cognitive aging, the more we find we need to know. Scientists and doctors need validated tools and assessment models that they can use to better identify cognitive issues at earlier stages – and new methods for treating such issues.

  • You can take steps now. Individuals and their families need to know about factors that can influence, positively or negatively, the chance of cognitive decline. These include:
    • Staying physically active.
    • Preventing or reducing cardiovascular issues, including managing diabetes and high blood pressure and quitting smoking.
    • Consulting with a doctor about conditions/medications that can have an impact on cognition
    • Getting a proper amount of sleep on a regular basis.
    • Staying socially active and maintaining social contacts as much as possible.
    • Finding activities that keep the mind engaged and the brain learning.

Fear of developing Alzheimer's is understandable. However, it's important to realize that not all memory lapses mean that dementia is around the corner. It's also crucial that seniors take steps to keep their cognitive function in as good a shape as possible through recommendations such as those above.​

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