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Cognitive Changes That Occur In Elderly Adults & How To Improve It
A blog written by Salil Mitra (Khyaal content community member)
The natural process of ageing has its impact on an elderly person's physical and mental health and it becomes gradually prominent as time passes. Low bone density, pain in muscles & joints, an ailing digestive system, and issues with vision and hearing are some of the common problems you might experience as you leave your younger days behind. Besides all of these, certain cognitive changes also occur in old age. And, keeping these changes in check is important because it helps understand what's normal and what's not or whether any help from a clinical professional is required.
In this article, we are going to dive deep into cognitive changes that senior citizens experience and discuss in detail how the conditions can be improved.
What are the cognitive changes observed in seniors?
Changes can occur in multiple ways, including the speed with which you process information, memory, attention, linguistic ability and carrying out executive functions. Ageing leads to a gradual decline in all these areas due to a sedentary lifestyle.
As you age, the speed with which you generally process information decreases. For instance, you might take more time to reply to a question asked, or you might find it difficult to understand a certain problem and arrive at a solution.
When you're young, say in your 20s or 30s, you process information at blazing fast speed, but as your age increases, the speed doesn't remain the same. This can hinder your daily activities to some extent, but it's important to understand that with the right steps you can manage this condition.
Ageing also affects the way your memory functions. When we mention 'memory', we are talking about multiple aspects of it, such as working memory, episodic memory and prospective memory.
Working memory- This is where you store information temporarily, and put it to immediate use. This type of memory helps in decision making, understanding & processing of language and problem-solving.
Episodic memory- As the name suggests, this type of memory holds information about episodes or incidents from your personal life, including details such as time, place and a lot more.
Prospective memory- If you have to carry out a task sometime in the near future, that bit of information is stored in your prospective memory.
These three types of memory are mostly affected by ageing. The effects can reflect in your everyday life in multiple ways, for example, you might become more forgetful about past incidents or future commitments or have issues solving complex problems.
As you move towards old age, your attention span reduces. Attention is a cognitive factor that helps you retain focus. We can divide attention into two broad categories such as selective attention and divided attention. The first one helps you focus on a particular piece of information among others, while the second one refers to the ability to multitask, where you can pay attention to more things at the same time.
As a senior citizen, you might have difficulties focusing on one specific piece of information and multitasking or changing tasks frequently. You can get distracted easily, and focusing becomes painful.
This refers to the ability to comprehend and respond to written and verbal language. Generally, the elderly do not have problems with their conversational vocabulary, reading ability or writing skills. However, with age, some seniors do have issues with coming up with the right word at the right time, spelling out words, or recalling the name of a particular object or person. Difficulty in understanding live announcements or speech is also another common issue, but in this case, the reason is declining hearing ability as well as the inability to process information at a rapid speed.
These are your problem-solving skills, mental agility, ability to organize, abstract thinking, and logical reasoning skills. With the help of these functions, you carry out complex tasks and solve problems. Seniors often experience a change in their executive abilities.
How do manage these cognitive changes in seniors?
These cognitive changes can be painful as well as stressful. When you suddenly find it hard to remember the things you have known all your life, or you cannot understand something as quickly as you used to, it can lead to discomfort and lack of confidence. But it's important to note that these signs are more or less common in seniors.
Keeping your brain engaged, having social interactions, eating healthy, sleeping well, regular exercising, and continuous learning are some of the ways to manage these changes by making small alterations to your lifestyle.
Keep the brain healthy
The key to keeping your brain healthy is regular stimulation. When your mind stays active and curious nothing can take away your smartness. Be it solving difficult math problems, playing crossword puzzles, or getting involved in activities that require you to brainstorm and ideate cognitive stimulation in any form is necessary to manage the sudden changes.
To keep your brain healthy, you have to be physically fit first. Falling into the trap of a sedentary lifestyle will soon impact your cognitive abilities, so staying active is the only way out, as long as you don't have mobility issues. Even a 30-minute brisk walking, jogging, running, or exercising, can result in a positive change in your mind and body.
Eat food that is high in nutritional value. Calcium, Potassium, dietary fibre, vitamin D, and vitamin B12 are some of the essential nutrients that must be present in your diet chart. Avoid junk as much as possible, and keep your meals rich in green vegetables, fruits, and whole foods. When you eat well, your bodily functions are more likely to function well.
Get proper sleep
Insomnia and disturbed sleep patterns can be a problem for older adults which often impact their cognitive abilities. Eating healthy and exercising every day can help with this issue to a certain extent. Try to sleep at the same time every day, and avoid afternoon naps. If you're above the age of 60 or 65, at least 7-8 hours of sleep is necessary to keep your body functioning properly. Lack of physical movement can be a reason why you have trouble falling asleep, so engaging in some form of exercise should be beneficial for your overall health.
Brain training games
Brain training games are designed to stimulate your brain and provide a fun experience. All you need is access to a smartphone or a tablet along with an internet connection. There are thousands of brain training games out there that improve your problem-solving abilities and concentration level and in general, keep you busy with something engaging.
There's no better medicine than staying in touch with your family & friends and enjoying their company. Go out frequently, travel, meet new people and stay young at heart. With age, many senior citizens tend to become more home-bound and refrain from going out or socializing. But this should not be the case. Human connections are necessary for your mental well-being, so always make it a point to stay connected with your loved ones.
Stress is bad for health irrespective of a person's age, but it's even more harmful to seniors. So if you feel stressed and anxious too often, try to speak to a professional about your issues - they will help you cope with the situation. You can also try meditation at home. It's a healthy practice that will help you stay calm, improve your ability to focus, and keep stress at bay.
As unused metal products develop rust, the parts of your brain that go unused begin to lose their capability. One solution to this problem is to keep learning. Don't let your curiosity fade away. Acquire new skills and hobbies. Trying out new things keeps your brain and mind healthy, and as a result, you'll be less likely to get affected by the cognitive changes that set in with old age.
While cognitive changes can appear with age, it's also possible to manage them with a little bit of awareness and effort from your end. If you're a senior citizen, it's advisable to not stress about these signs, but rather implement the lifestyle changes as suggested. But if these cognitive alterations interfere with your daily activities and hinder you from leading a normal life, seeking medical help would be the best plan of action.