Aging & Longevity
Senior citizens need to understand Cognitive Aging – not Alzheimer’s or dementia
New free report from Institute of Health is a good
source for understanding the mental challenges of aging
By Tucker Sutherland,
23, 2015 –As one who for years nursed a mother as she faded into the
abyss of Alzheimer’s and has written extensively on senior citizen
topics, I am stunned at how little we know about “cognitive aging.”
Still, AD and memory problems come up almost every time two or more
senior citizens get together. A new book that is available free from the
Institute of Medicine has already made me a whole lot better informed on
cognitive aging and I hope it gets wide distribution.
It is actually a new report just released by the
IOM that does a good job of explaining the public health dimensions of
cognitive aging as separate from neurodegenerative diseases, such as
Alzheimer's and other dementias.
Besides being packed with information, the authors
Cognitive Aging: Progress in Understanding and Opportunities for Action
call for increased research on assessing and maintaining cognitive
health in older adults.
The term “cognitive aging” is relatively new, the
book says, and therefore the public is less familiar with it than with
terms for brain diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. The
level of awareness of Alzheimer’s disease is very high – generally well
above 90 percent in older Americans.
But most seniors still have little understanding
about the topic of dementias and tend to assume all cognitive problems –
memory in particular – are related to dementia, as opposed to a normal
Facts to Remember
Age affects all
The brain ages,
just like other parts of the body. The types and rates of change
can vary widely among individuals.
are not necessarily signs of neurodegenerative disease
(such as Alzheimer’s disease) or other neurological diseases.
Actions can be taken by individuals to help maintain cognitive
The IOM report and its recommendations follow
deliberations of a panel convened by the IOM to examine the public
health dimensions and state of knowledge of cognitive aging. The report
was released April 14 and, although it is available online now, the
proofreading is not complete.
“Of the abilities people hope will remain intact as
they get older, perhaps the most treasured is the 'stay sharp' - to
think clearly, remember accurately, and make decisions with careful
thought. Yet the brain ages,” the authors say.
“Cognitive functioning in older adults can improve
in some areas, such as those related to wisdom and experience, and they
can decline in others, such as memory, attention and speed of
processing. Individuals vary widely in the specific cognitive changes
that occur with age, in the nature and extent of cognitive aging, as
well as in the ways these changes affect daily life.”
And they write, “While age-related declines on many
standardized tests of cognitive abilities are well-documented, older
adults may still maintain high levels of competence on most everyday
activities because they are often able to compensate for declines in
cognitive abilities with expertise and experience or environmental cues
or support. The age-related changes seen in several domains of cognition
have implications for behavior and function.”
They urge that some interventions for healthy aging
- exercise, reducing risk of cardiovascular disease, and regular
discussions with health professionals about medications and chronic
conditions - be promoted to help maintain cognitive health.
An area of focus among the report’s 10
recommendations is aimed at the conduct and dissemination of independent
reviews and guidelines for products claiming to affect cognitive health.
Throughout much of the report are interesting
senior citizen research reports about the subject. For example -
● In 2013 a YouGov
survey found that Americans of ages 60 years and older were more afraid
of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia than cancer, heart disease, stroke,
or diabetes (Alzheimer’s Association, 2014).
● The primary reasons
why people are afraid of Alzheimer’s disease are: forgetting family,
becoming a burden to the family, and not being able to take care of
oneself. Additional reasons are the fear of losing their personality and
who they are, and having had experience with someone who had the disease
(Alzheimer’s Association, 2014).
● A small
non-representative survey found that people over 50 years of age were
more afraid of “losing my mental sharpness” than other risks, which
included, in declining order, “losing my overall health,” “a family
member losing their overall health,” “not being able to take care of
myself,” “running out of money,” “getting a terminal illness,” and
“losing a spouse” (AARP, 2014).
The study was supported by the McKnight Brain
Research Foundation, AARP, the Retirement Research Foundation, the
National Institute on Neurological.
The report is available online in several formats
National Institute on Aging References
NIA maintains an active research portfolio in
cognitive aging and provides a number of resources for the public and
health care professionals in this area. Among these are:
Understanding Memory Loss: We've all
forgotten a name, where we put our keys, or if we locked the front door.
It's normal to forget things once in a while. However, forgetting how to
make change, use the telephone, or find your way home may be signs of a
more serious memory problem.
This easy-to-read booklet explains the difference
between mild forgetfulness and more serious memory problems; describes
the causes of memory problems and how they can be treated; and discusses
how to cope with serious memory problems.
List of Current NIA-Funded Age-Related Cognitive Decline Clinical Trials:
This list of ongoing clinical trials contains links to information about
trials, the trial location, and who to contact for additional
Brain Health Resource: This presentation toolkit offers
current, evidence-based information and resources to facilitate
conversations with older people about brain health. Designed for use at
senior centers and in other community settings, it contains a PowerPoint
presentation, an educator guide, handouts, and a resource list.
Materials are written in plain language and explain what people can do
to help keep their brains functioning best as they age.
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