What Is Cognitive Decline? - Definition, Causes & Symptoms

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  • 0:04 Introduction to…
  • 0:48 Definition of…
  • 1:35 Causes of Cognitive Decline
  • 3:35 Cognitive Decline Diagnoisis
  • 4:25 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Gaines Arnold
This lesson discusses how cognitive decline, some of its possible causes, and how it can be recognized. This problem is usually age-related, but there are other causes that are detailed during the discussion.

Introduction to Cognitive Decline

In the beginning, it seemed to Margaret that it was just little things. She would start cooking, get a phone call that distracted her attention, and remember she had turned the stove on under the pan only after she smelled the burning oil in the pot 30 minutes later. Then she lost her way in conversations. People had to repeat what they had just said, not because of her poor hearing but because she had lost the thread of the conversation. All these little events - losing keys, forgetting friends' names, difficulty following a story in a book - began to worry her. So, the next time Margaret saw her doctor, she asked him about her lapses. He questioned her for a few minutes, then talked to her about cognitive decline.

Definition of Cognitive Decline

Joints become stiffer, arteries harden, and the brain isn't as supple as it used to be. Cognitive decline is among the normal processes of aging. It happens at different times and is noticed to affect different elements of people's lives, but it always has the same overall effect. Cognitive decline simply means that your brain doesn't work as well as it used to.

This isn't the same as cognitive impairment, which can be the result of damage, disease or an increased level of cognitive decline from another source. Cognitive decline is a response to the aging of neurons and the decreased speed at which the brain functions. The difference in the two is that every person faces cognitive decline because every person ages.

Causes of Cognitive Decline

Although it's age-related for most people, the exact cause of cognitive decline is not known. Cognitive decline can be caused by elements of a person's environment that are not conducive to normal brain health. When the body does not receive proper nutrition, it can't perform as it is supposed to. Certain elements, enzymes, etc. are required. Many studies have determined that with malnutrition the brain becomes unable to process thoughts as effectively, has difficulty during decision making, concentration becomes more difficult, and learning efficiency decreases. This decline can become permanent if general nutrition is not attended to.

Age-related cognitive decline, such as Margaret experienced, can be the result of many different factors. As an individual ages, estrogen levels (especially in women, but this also effects men) will begin to decline. Although this may have little effect initially, over time it can cause lack of energy and a decline in brain function. The lining of the arteries hardens and blood flow is more restricted to the brain. Another issue is that over time, the body builds up what have been termed as free radicals. Free radicals are molecules and atoms that have an unpaired electron which means that they are highly reactive and damaging to cellular structures. A lifetime of free radical buildup from poor food choices and environmental toxins can cause cellular breakdown in the brain.

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