IS THIS TYPICAL AGING OR NOT?
Changes in attention, memory, and organization can be caused by every day stressors and influenced by outside circumstances. Ever not get a good night sleep? Felt overwhelmed with work or your something in your personal life? Been ill? Anxious? Depressed? These factors can impair how we focus, process information, remember things, and complete tasks. This is normal.
In fact, the typically aging adult may experience reduced mental flexibility and benign memory loss but is still able to complete day-to-day routines, demonstrate safety, and remain social. What is not typical is reduction in verbal expression, ability to understand or "keep up" in a conversation, or making regular errors or mistakes when completing routine, familiar tasks.
Atypical changes in mental status may be subtle at the start, usually first noticed in social settings or non-routine situations (think going to the airport). Changes may be first recognized most easily by those most familiar with the individual. In social settings, there may be withdrawal, increased defensiveness or agitation when errors are pointed out, or reduced engagement in hobbies or activities once found enjoyable. These abnormal changes can result in a reduced ability to encode and recall information later, and may present as a memory loss, which is often called Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI).
Although scary and stressful to acknowledge, these cognitive-linguistic changes should be identified and addressed immediately. Early identification and intervention can help to identify the cause of the change and identify therapies and strategies that can help slow the progression.
If you or your loved one are demonstrating changes, talk to your doctor and advocate for support. The establishment of a clinical support network can help slow the progression, reduce the feeling of isolation and depression, and improve quality of life. At the end of the day, that's what matters.