Major Mental Health Concerns in Late Adulthood

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  • 0:58 Dementia
  • 2:23 Frontotemporal Dementia
  • 5:17 Multi-Infarct Dementia
  • 6:58 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

Everyone forgets things sometimes, but as people age, they often have trouble with memory and other cognitive processes. Watch this lesson to find out more about two types of thinking problems, frontotemporal and multi-infarct dementia.

Late Adulthood

Rachel is almost 80, and she's had a good life so far. She's done a lot of great things and known a lot of great people.

But lately, something's been wrong. She finds it hard to focus and can't understand things that used to be clear to her. For example, the other day her granddaughter asked her what 2/3 is as a percentage, and Rachel didn't know how to figure it out. In fact, she wasn't even sure what her granddaughter was asking her!

Rachel is in late adulthood, which is the time of life after age 65. There are many great things about late adulthood, like the fact that most people have more time to pursue their passions and that many people develop wisdom.

But there are some negatives, too. Among them is a rise in certain mental health issues. Let's look closer at one of the biggest mental health issues in late adulthood: dementia.


Rachel is having trouble understanding even simple questions. When her granddaughter asked her a math question, Rachel didn't really understand what she was asking.

Not only that, Rachel's memory is starting to go. When people ask her about things that happened, even things that happened recently, Rachel can't remember. It's almost like there's a heavy fog over her mind.

Rachel is suffering from dementia, which involves chronic problems with brain functioning and affects such thinking skills as memory, judgment, and critical thinking, among others. Dementia is a common issue in late adulthood.

What causes dementia? One of the reasons that dementia is so prevalent in late adulthood is that it has many causes. Many people think of Alzheimer's disease when they think of dementia and for good reason: the memory and thinking issues in Alzheimer's are a type of dementia.

But Rachel doesn't have Alzheimer's disease, so what's going on? Remember that there are many causes of dementia, and Alzheimer's is just one of them. Aging, diseases, and accidents can all cause dementia. So what's the cause of Rachel's problems?

Imagine that you are Rachel's doctor, and she comes to see you with dementia. Let's look at two types of dementia and see if we can diagnose Rachel with one of them.

Frontotemporal Dementia

OK, so Rachel has dementia. But what type of dementia? What's the cause? Finding the cause is important because you need to treat the underlying condition causing it. You know that if you figure out what the cause of the dementia is, you can offer her appropriate treatment.

When she first comes to you, you think that she might have frontotemporal dementia, which used to be called Pick's disease, and which is caused by shrinking of the frontal and the front half of the temporal lobes of the brain. The name tells it all. It is dementia that involves the frontal and the temporal lobes, so it is called 'frontotemporal dementia.'

The frontal lobe of the brain is responsible for the regulation of a person's behaviors and critical thinking skills. It's the frontal lobe that stops you from acting out all of your urges. If you want to strip down naked and run through the White House, it's your frontal lobe that says, 'Wait a second. The Secret Service might not like that too much.'

Meanwhile, the temporal lobe of the brain includes the language centers of the brain. That's what allows people to communicate with each other.

What does this have to do with Rachel? Well, as her doctor, you realize that if her frontal and temporal lobes are affected, there are some specific symptoms that will show up. You can talk to Rachel and see if she has these symptoms. If she does, you can diagnose her with frontotemporal dementia.

There are two patterns of symptoms that you are looking for in frontotemporal dementia:

1. Behavioral Changes. Remember that the frontal lobe of the brain helps regulate a person's behaviors. Since frontotemporal dementia includes a shrinking of the frontal lobe, you can probably guess that a person with frontotemporal dementia will have behavioral changes.

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