The Impact of Normal Aging on Thinking and Memory

November 19, 2021

Like all the other parts of the body, the brain also deteriorates and changes through the normal aging process. The brain manages memory and thinking and regulates all mental processes. Understanding these changes help us recognize the aging process in ourselves as well as notice the changes in our aging loved ones. This is especially important when trying to discern between normal aging and issues that may be more concerning such as dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease.

Cognitive aging is the brain’s version of working less efficiently due to age rather than due to trauma or another illness. It tends to happen gradually. Unlike a disease, it does not involve neurodegeneration or damage to the brain’s neurons. Diseases like Alzheimer’s significantly damage and even kill the brain’s neurons.

Listed below are the main ways the brain is impacted by the normal aging process.

Memory

Normal aging will cause a decline in a person’s working memory. Working memory is the temporary ability to hold information and use it. For example, telling someone a short shopping list and expecting them to be able to go into the store and purchase all the items. It also affects episodic memory for recent events. A person loses some ability to retain memories of recent personal experiences.

Normal aging does not typically impact procedural memory which is the memory used to learn a new task or semantic long-term memory which refers to the factual accumulation of knowledge over time.

Processing Speed

Processing speed refers to how quickly the brain can process new information and formulate a response. It slows with aging which is the reason that driving can become problematic for seniors. Driving requires the brain to continue to notice new circumstances and form safe responses.

Attention

Both selective attention and divided attention naturally tend to get worse as we age. Selective attention is the ability to focus and tune out distractions. Divided attention, or “multi-tasking” is the ability to manage multiple things at once.

Language Skills

While most seniors retain their vocabulary, language production, or the ability to produce the right word, often takes longer. Even the ability to name a common object starts to decline after the age of 70.

If you notice some of these changes in an elderly loved one, consider getting them to a doctor for a cognitive assessment. Finalizing or updating an estate plan requires being of sound mind. For more information, contact the elder law attorneys at Stouffer Legal in the Greater Baltimore area. You can schedule an appointment by calling us at (443) 470-3599, emailing us at office@stoufferlegal.com, or register for an upcoming free webinar using the link below:

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