It’s true that as people age, certain cognitive abilities, like processing speed and multitasking, may slow. However, other aspects, like vocabulary or knowledge-based skills, often remain stable or even improve.
Our team at Gables Neurology in Miami, Florida, led by board-certified neurologist Dr. Andrew Lerman, specializes in personalized treatment for numerous neurological disorders, including dementia and cognitive function.
We’re happy to provide information about cognitive dysfunction, its relationship to aging, and what might be “normal” changes versus more concerning issues, including early dementia.
What is cognitive dysfunction?
Cognitive dysfunction refers to a noticeable decline in cognitive abilities, such as memory, attention, decision-making, and problem-solving. It can range from mild forgetfulness to more severe cognitive impairment.
The level of dysfunction you or a loved one is experiencing may signal a problem. For instance, forgetting a name now and then or finding it takes longer to learn a new skill than when you were 20 is expected. But frequently losing your train of thought during conversations, getting lost in familiar neighborhoods, or repeatedly missing appointments isn’t triggered by aging.
While many individuals are concerned about developing dementia, numerous conditions can cause cognitive impairment, and some are reversible.
What causes cognitive dysfunction?
Genetics, lifestyle, and general health can all influence cognitive function in older adults. For example, depression, vitamin deficiencies, thyroid issues, and medication side effects can affect memory, thinking, and reasoning skills.
Additionally, some studies show that declining physical activity, social isolation, and decreased participation in hobbies or interests can also affect cognitive health. Poorly controlled chronic conditions like hypertension and diabetes increase your risk of developing dementia.
Of course, dementia is also a cause of cognitive dysfunction. Early diagnosis and treatment for Alzheimer’s and other dementia-triggering conditions can help stall its progress and effects on your daily life.
Thus, it’s essential to schedule an evaluation if you’re experiencing symptoms that may indicate problems, including:
- Increasing forgetfulness
- Difficulty completing a task or staying focused
- Problems following instructions (i.e., preparing a recipe)
- Difficulty following the plot of a movie or novel
- Increasing irritability
- Confusion, anxiety, depression
Your evaluation at Gables Neurology may include cognitive and neuropsychological testing to assess memory, judgment, and thinking. You may also benefit from lab work, brain scans, and other diagnostic studies to identify the underlying cause of your symptoms.
Can you prevent cognitive dysfunction?
You can’t prevent all cognitive decline related to aging, and we don’t yet have a cure for conditions like Alzheimer’s dementia. However, there is much you can do to protect your brain health.
For instance, engaging in regular physical activity, maintaining social connections, lifelong learning, and following a balanced diet are a few strategies that can boost your overall physical and emotional health and may reduce cognitive decline.
Further, there’s a widespread stereotype that older adults can't learn or adapt to new information. However, many studies have shown that seniors can learn new skills, languages, and even musical instruments.
Your brain has a remarkable ability to adapt and change, even in later life. This quality, known as neuroplasticity, allows your brain to reorganize itself, form new connections, and compensate for age-related changes. Thus, engaging in puzzles, reading, learning a new hobby, or any activity that challenges your mind can help.
For more information about cognitive dysfunction, schedule an evaluation with Dr. Lerman at Gables Neurology today. Call our office or request an appointment online.