Alzheimer’s and dementia are scary. You may have experienced a family member or friend sinking into it and hope it doesn’t happen to anyone else you know.
Or even yourself.
It may have even sparked you to over-analyze any mental drop you’ve noticed in yourself or a loved one. But you can take a deep breath: many of the common signs of cognitive decline are not associated with an underlying medical condition.
Just like you can’t run as fast or jump as high as you once did, your ability to learn, remember, and solve problems can taper off with age. It usually starts to happen in a person’s 50s or 60s, and there can be a host of contributing factors.
For example, sometimes minor hearing loss that occurs with age can make it more difficult to distinguish what people are saying, requiring more focus. Even mild hearing loss can affect focus and comprehension.
Poor sleep plays a factor too. Sleep tends to decline with age, and it can affect cognitive function.
Both contributors to cognitive decline are fixable.
Finding it more difficult to recall once familiar facts, or divide your attention between more than one activity, can be frustrating. But they do not signify a health problem.
What seems like a memory problem, for example, could just be a slowdown in processing speed, memory encoding, or recall, resulting from diminished attention.
But if you’re still able to make sense of what you know and make reasonable judgments, you’ve still got your brainpower; it might just take a little longer to fire up.
Sometimes age can lead to structural changes in the brain which may influence cognitive function. There is data to show that regions involved in memory processing, like the frontal lobes and hippocampus, undergo some changes over time.
Once again, this is not a sign of Alzheimer’s or dementia. It’s just that as people age, it may take longer to absorb, process, and utilize information. It may also be a little more difficult to concentrate.