'Cognitive Changes in Normal Aging' by Dr. Domenico Pratico
Updated: May 31
As a part of aging, many healthy adults experience subtle changes in short-term memory (e.g., forgetting where you parked your car or the name of the person you were just introduced to) as well as a number of other cognitive abilities. For example, many older adults are slower at processing new information and must work harder than young adults to learn and store new material.
Many also demonstrate a decreased ability to divide their attention between more than one activity at a time (e.g., engaging in a conversation with a passenger while driving) and are more susceptible to distraction (e.g., trouble reading while the television is playing in the background).
Although these cognitive changes can cause concern, it is comforting to know that they are a normal part of aging and not necessarily a sign of dementia. Indeed, there are a number of strategies that can be implemented by a healthy older adult to reduce the frustration that these age-related changes often produce.
For instance, strategies such as writing down important information, using a daily calendar to keep track of appointments, and putting easily misplaced items (e.g., glasses, keys, remote control) in a designed spot at home can reduce forgetfulness in those who are aging normally.
When to Seek an Evaluation
When an older adult’s memory and/or cognitive problems become noticeable and affect day-to-day functioning, it is important that she/he seeks an evaluation as soon as possible to (1) determine the underlying cause or etiology and (2) institute an effective treatment plan.
Unfortunately, many individuals, as well as close family, friends, and even physicians, often
dismiss memory loss as “just a part of normal aging”.
Although normal aging can indeed contribute to forgetfulness, significant memory loss may indicate a more serious condition such as Mild Cognitive Impairment (aka MCI) or dementia (e.g., Alzheimer’s disease). To increase recognition of Alzheimer’s disease, the Alzheimer association has recommended that individuals and families be aware of the following 10 warning signs.
If several of these symptoms are present, the individual and/or family should seek a thorough evaluation:
1. Memory changes that disrupt daily life
2. Challenges in planning or solving problems
3. Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work, or at leisure
4. Confusion with time and place
5. Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationship
6. New problems with words in speaking or writing
7. Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
8. Decreased or poor judgment
9. Withdrawal from work or social activities
10. Changes in mood and personality
Domenico Praticò, MD, is the Scott Richards North Star Charitable Foundation Chair for Alzheimer’s Research, Professor and Director of the Alzheimer’s Center at Temple, and Professor of Pharmacology at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University