Aging impacts both the physical and mental well-being of adults in multiple ways. One of the noticeable signs is the onset of cognitive health decline which has a significant impact on the quality of life seniors lead. This decline is usually associated with impairment of cognitive functions where people have trouble in recollecting events, learning new concepts or making important decisions that can affect their day-to-day lives. The degree of impairment may vary from person to person and can be broadly categorized as mild to severe.
In the milder cases, the cognitive changes are serious enough to be noticeable to the family and friends though they may not create a hurdle in carrying out routine activities. However, as the problem progresses there may be more serious issues like memory and concentration issues leading to mental ailments like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease where the patients essentially need more support and medical interventions.
Some of the symptoms of decline in cognitive health are:
- Mental confusion
- Poor motor coordination capabilities
- Loss of concentration and memory
- Confusion of identity
- Impaired Judgement
- Aggression and Irritability
Causes of Cognitive Decline
- Side-effects of medications – There are several medications that affect the proper brain functioning of the brain. Some of the medicines which cause this are sedatives, tranquilizers and anticholinergic drugs.
- Imbalances in metabolism – There may be variations and abnormalities in the blood due to liver and kidney malfunctioning. This imbalance may also result in abnormal levels of glucose, sodium or calcium in the blood.
- Variations in hormonal levels – Imbalances in hormone levels of thyroid, oestrogen or other sex hormones may also impact the cognitive functioning of the brain.
- Certain deficiencies – The deficiencies in the levels of certain vitamins like vitamin B12 and key nutrients like folate affect the brain.
- Condition of delirium – Abrupt changes in the brain can cause mental confusion and emotional imbalance resulting in cognitive decline. It usually occurs in older adults who are hospitalized or may happen after infection.
- Psychiatric illness – Many psychiatric illnesses can affect thinking, concentration and memory retention capabilities. Some examples of such mental ailments are depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
- Effects of substance abuse or substance withdrawal – The over usage or the serious intoxication of certain harmful substances like alcohol and illicit drugs can hamper the brain function.
- Brain injury – Head injuries or diseases like stroke attacks or cerebral small vessel disease can damage the neurons and blood vessels of the brain leading to temporary or long-term cognitive issues.
- Infections – Some persistent acute and chronic infections in older adults can also affect their cognitive abilities as it affects the brain cells directly.
- Exposure to toxins – Continuous exposure to certain toxins such as pollutants, pesticides, chemicals, heavy metals, contaminants and nuclear materials can also hamper brain functioning.
Steps for Evaluating Cognitive Decline
- Recording the patient’s concerns about his/her thinking abilities and memory challenges.
- Requesting information about the thinking and memory difficulties of patients from their family members, friends and caretakers.
- Documenting the difficulties in managing the activities of daily living including meal preparation, grocery shopping, driving to a particular location, maintaining the home and medicine management.
- Looking out cautiously for other signs related to cognitive decline like mood and behavioural changes including hallucinations, personality changes and difficulties encountered in visual-spatial tasks.
- Watching out for unknown causes for changes in physical health.
- Learning in-depth about the probable substance abuse and withdrawal habits of the patient.
- Reviewing the medication schedule in detail with a view of identifying drugs that cause deterioration of cognitive functions.
- Ensuring a thorough physical examination of the patient along and closely monitoring the body’s vital parameters.
- Recommending diagnostic tests including blood examination and imaging tests for assessing health problems that can be the potential cause for onset or decline of cognitive issues.
- Providing care for them through senior home healthcare also will help them to feel relieved.
Tips for Protecting Seniors from Cognitive Decline
- Encourage seniors to do exercises regularly as it offers a host of benefits not only to physical health but also supports mental health. It prevents anxiety, depression, sleeping problems like insomnia and improves memory functioning and cognitive abilities.
- Various sectors providing the Geriatric home care for the elderly will also help to protect them from cognitive decline as they will be provided the help for doing their daily activities.
- Ask elders to follow a healthy diet that includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds and olive oil and sufficient amounts of dairy products, fish and poultry. Such diets also slow down the progression of dementia.
- Ensure that elders restrict the consumption of alcohol as it reduces the risk for both cognitive decline and dementia. Research also suggests that heavy drinkers are more prone to getting Alzheimer’s disease.
- Insist that seniors have sufficient periods of rest and good quality sleep. This is important because the human body needs a certain amount of sleep for the proper functioning of the brain. Both learning and memory are consolidated during the resting phase.
- Promote mental simulation of elders by encouraging them to do reading, writing, crossword puzzles, sudoku and play board games to keep themselves mentally alert.
- Build better social connections with seniors as it protects the memory and cognitive abilities and slows down the aging process.