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Cognitive Impairment in Older Adults

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov
As we age, we tend to slow down both physically and mentally. However, if our mental decline exceeds that which is considered to be normal for our age, then it is called cognitive impairment. Learn more about this topic in this lesson.

A Loss For Words

Have you ever been at a loss for words? It was probably because you were shocked about something. Did you ever lose your keys only to find them exactly where you left them, but not before you blamed someone else for moving them? Have you ever lost track of a conversation because it bored you out of your mind?

Well, a loss for words, forgetfulness, and difficulty following a conversation are all a normal part of life and may have very benign explanations. But for some people, especially older adults, these events may signal cognitive impairment.

Mild Cognitive Impairment

Cognitive impairment can be generally viewed as the loss of proper intellectual function with respect to thinking, memory, and so forth, at a level beyond that which is expected for a person's age. It is more likely to be found in older adults, and the signs and symptoms of cognitive impairment all depend on the extent of the impairment itself.

One kind of cognitive impairment is mild in nature. In this form, a person may have:

  • Trouble recalling things due to memory loss
  • An inability to find the right words to describe something
  • Attention deficit issues, like difficulty focusing properly on a conversation
  • Diminished visuospatial skills -- for instance, a person with mild cognitive impairment may become disoriented for no apparent reason in what is, to them, a familiar place

Dementia

A more severe form of cognitive impairment is known as dementia. You may have heard of Alzheimer's disease. Well, this is the most common form of dementia. It is believed that a person who has mild cognitive impairment (MCI) where the major issue is memory problems is more likely to develop Alzheimer's disease.

The critical difference between mild cognitive impairment and dementia is that dementia involves cognitive impairment to such an extent that it interferes with normal daily life, including work, family, friends, hobbies, and daily routines like eating or taking medication.

In addition to all of the problems a person may have with mild cognitive impairment, an older adult with dementia may also have difficulty with problem-solving, coordination, and planning. They may be confused a lot and can even experience mental health changes like depression, hallucinations, paranoia, and so forth.

The Causes of Cognitive Impairment in Adults

No one is entirely sure why cognitive impairment occurs in adults and why some have mild cognitive impairment while others have dementia. It is believed, in general, that people with MCI are experiencing changes in their brain that are similar to those that occur in Alzheimer's disease, but at an earlier stage. Alternatively, these individuals may be experiencing brain damage from silent strokes that slowly take a toll on their cognitive abilities.

Silent strokes are those that cause no initially obvious outward signs or symptoms of a stroke because they do not impact the areas of the brain responsible for stereotypical signs of stroke, like a droopy face. Instead, the areas they impact tend to be small and those involved in cognitive processes. Since silent strokes typically occur more than once, more and more areas of the brain are damaged. This eventually causes obvious signs and symptoms of mental decline.

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