Understanding Cognitive Decline in Seniors
How to Help a Loved One Experiencing Cognitive Impairment
This winter, McGregor will be shining a light on the most common health issues experienced by aging seniors in Cleveland. We hope you and your family will check back regularly to access upcoming posts in the series. Our goal is to help you be better able to recognize the early warning signs of these conditions and be able to take the first steps in getting your loved one the care they need.
As a parent or loved one ages, they may experience certain challenges that are unfamiliar to you. You may question what is normal for a senior, and what is potentially a more serious cause for concern. Understanding cognitive decline, and how to identify when a senior is losing their cognitive abilities, is important for caregivers. While it is important to look for signs of a more serious cognitive issue, such as dementia sometimes cognitive issues can indicate a lifestyle-related or general health problem.
What is cognitive decline?
Cognitive impairment is defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as when “a person has trouble remembering, learning new things, concentrating, or making decisions that affect their everyday life.” Cognitive decline doesn’t have just one cause, and it also can affect people of all ages—not just seniors. However, gradual cognitive decline is expected with normal aging, according to the Cleveland Clinic: “For example, the ability to learn new information may be reduced, mental processing slows, speed of performance slows, and [the] ability to become distracted increases.”
A person who is aging may forget someone’s name on occasion or misplace an item in their room. However, the signs of mild cognitive impairment will be more concerning.
What are the signs of cognitive decline?
Someone who is experiencing cognitive decline beyond what is expected with normal aging may exhibit the following:
- An apparent loss of memory
- Asking the same questions repeatedly
- Telling the same stories repeatedly
- Difficulty following through on tasks (like paying a monthly bill)
- An inability to recognize a familiar face or place
How does cognitive decline progress?
It is impossible to predict how cognitive decline will progress for an individual without having a medical professional conduct a screening. This is because your loved one may be experiencing signs of cognitive impairment for very different reasons: They could be experiencing early-onset dementia, suffering from depression, or experiencing a side effect of a new medication. Sometimes an undiagnosed medical issue like a virus or a urinary tract infection can be causing confusion and symptoms of cognitive decline.
What can you do to prevent further cognitive decline?
Some of these conditions, such as depression, are treatable, and a doctor can help adjust a senior’s medication accordingly to reverse their cognitive decline. Other conditions, like Alzheimer’s, are not able to be reversed but symptoms can be treated—and families can make preparations for the future care of their loved one. The most important thing to do is to reach out to your loved one’s primary care physician and request a screening for cognitive impairment.
McGregor Is Here for You and Your Loved One
Caring for Seniors With Cognitive Decline
If you determine that your loved one is experiencing the signs of mild cognitive impairment or early-onset Alzheimer’s, you may feel scared and alone—but there are many individuals at McGregor who can offer guidance, support, and potentially care for your loved one. We invite you to reach out to learn more about our different living options, including Assisted Living, and discover how we may be able to provide a place for your loved one to live safely as they age.