Some changes in thinking ability are considered a normal part of aging. Most healthy older adults experience mild decline in some areas of cognition, such as visual and verbal memory, immediate memory or the ability to name objects.
However, some people experience dementia, which is not part of normal aging. Dementia is characterized by multiple cognitive deficits with memory impairments affecting a person's language, working (immediate) memory, spatial memory, verbal memory and executive functioning. Executive function is a set of mental processes that helps connect past experience with present action. People use it to plan, organize, strategize, pay attention to and remember details, and to manage time and space.
In most cases, a person's social functioning and ability to live independently must be affected to be diagnosed with dementia. Independent living means the ability to shop alone, manage finances, perform basic household duties and monitor appropriate social behaviors. Independent living should not be compromised during normal aging.
It is often difficult to determine if someone's cognitive changes are not just a normal part of aging. Symptoms of dementia and what is considered normal behaviour differ for each person. This contributes to the challenges doctors may face when determining whether or not cognitive decline is due to a physiological or psychological condition.
Symptoms of dementia include:
The progression of cognitive deficits in conditions such as Alzheimer's disease may accelerate in the few years before the person is diagnosed. Accelerated cognitive decline may not occur until events, like a stroke, reach a threshold where the brain can no longer compensate for damage. It is important to get regular medical check-ups to monitor the extent and severity of any cognitive decline.
Although we have yet to discover the fountain of youth, there are many ways to increase your life expectancy:
While it is important to remain vigilant about maintaining good health, it is equally important to acknowledge that there are individual differences during the aging process. Discuss any concerns you may have with a health care professional.
Reviewed by health care specialists at UCSF Medical Center.
This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor or health care provider. We encourage you to discuss with your doctor any questions or concerns you may have.
Memory and Aging Center
400 Parnassus Ave., Eighth Floor
San Francisco, CA 94143
Phone: (415) 476-6880
Fax: (415) 476-4800