Preparing for possible cognitive decline: the difficult conversation
Not everyone is destined to get Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia, but unfortunately, some of us will. The good news is that 47.8 million Americans age 65 and over will be Alzheimer’s free… but the bad news is that 6.7 million in the same age group will develop the disease. And the older you are, the odds become even greater.1
We can all hope that our brains will stay healthy into our 60s, 70s, and beyond but the problem is that no one can be certain.
The aging brain: What’s normal, what’s disease-related?
Our brains do change with age, and there are some normal declines in learning and memory that occur. However, it’s important to distinguish normal brain aging from diseases of the brain. For most of us, fluid intelligence—the capacity to process novel information and newly learned knowledge, and our ability to solve puzzles and memorize lists—declines with age, with the greatest declines after age 70. That isn’t as important as Crystallized intelligence—intelligence based on the skills and strategies learned over lifetime—which remains stable well into the 60s and for many, can improve into the 70s and beyond.. The majority of us will have healthy brains throughout our lives and thanks to variations in memory and learning ability, may be finishing off crossword puzzles and managing spreadsheets well in our 80s and 90s. New research indicates that diet, continued learning and other factors can help to keep a normal brain healthy. We often worry that we may be getting Alzheimer’s disease when we sometimes forget everyday things, like misplacing an item or neglecting to pay a bill. That’s a normal change and nothing to be concerned about. On the other hand, changes in behavior, difficulty carrying on a conversation, conceptual confusion and consistently missing appointments might point to something more serious. The inability to manage money is another red flag for it is one of the first skills to be lost by someone with a disease of the brain.
Here are some of the warning signs.
Early Warning Signs of Dementia
- Difficulty finding the right words
- Changes in mood or personality
- Difficulty completing familiar tasks
- Confusion with time or place
- Apathy and withdrawal from activities
- Difficulty following story lines
- Failing sense of direction
- Being repetitive
- Struggling to adapt to change
1 Alzheimer Association® www.alz.org
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