• Titi Tade

WHAT HAPPENS TO OUR MINDS AS WE GET OLDER? (SIGNS OF OLD AGE/CARE FOR ELDERLY)


As people age, their bodily systems — including the brain — gradually decline. “Slips of the mind” are associated with getting older. [1] The brain controls many aspects of thinking — remembering, planning and organizing, making decisions, and much more. These cognitive abilities affect how well we do everyday tasks and whether we can live independently. [2]

Due to the gradual decline, some of these functions are impaired.



STRUCTURAL CHANGES IN THE BRAIN

The presenting changes as a result of the decline reflect changes in the brain structure and chemistry. The overall volume of the brain begins to shrink when we’re in our 30s or 40s, with the rate of shrinkage increasing around age 60. But, the volume loss isn’t uniform throughout the brain — some areas shrink more, and faster than other areas. The prefrontal cortex, cerebellum, and hippocampus show the biggest losses, which worsen in advanced age.

Our cerebral cortex, the wrinkled outer layer of the brain containing neuron cell bodies, also thins as we age. Cortical thinning follows a pattern similar to volume loss and is especially pronounced in the frontal lobes and parts of the temporal lobes.

The number of connections, or synapses, between brain cells also drops, which can affect learning and memory.[2]


COGNITIVE CHANGES

As an individual ages into late adulthood, psychological and cognitive changes can sometimes occur. A general decline in memory is very common, due to the decrease in speed of encoding, storage, and retrieval of information. This can cause problems with short-term memory retention and with the ability to learn new information. In most cases, this absent-mindedness should be considered a natural part of growing older rather than a psychological or neurological disorder. [3]

Older adults often become anxious about memory slips due to the link between impaired memory and Alzheimer’s disease. However, Alzheimer’s and other dementias are not a part of the normal aging process. [1]

Common memory changes that are associated with normal aging include:

● Difficulty learning something new: Committing new information to memory can take longer.

● Multitasking: Slowed processing can make planning parallel tasks more difficult.

● Recalling names and numbers: Strategic memory, which helps with remembering names and numbers, begins to decline at age 20.

● Remembering appointments: Without cues to recall the information, the brain may put appointments into “storage” and not access them unless something jogs the person’s memory.


AGE RELATED BRAIN DISEASES

Age is also the biggest risk factor for many brain diseases, most of which affect brain structure and function. Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia cause abnormal proteins to clump together and form plaques and tangles that damage brain tissue. Other diseases that are more common in older adults, such as diabetes and heart disease, can also compromise cognitive function. Medications, poor vision and hearing, sleep deprivation, and depression also can interfere with brain function, and thus cognitive ability. [4]

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of neurocognitive disorder, accounting for 50% to 70% of cases. Neurocognitive disorders most commonly affect memory, visual-spatial ability, language, attention, and executive function (e.g., judgment and problem-solving). Most of these disorders are slow and progressive; by the time a person shows signs of the disease, the changes in their brain have already been happening for a long time. About 10% of people with dementia have what is known as mixed dementia, which is usually a combination of Alzheimer’s disease and another type of dementia. [3]

There is no cure for dementia. But measures can be taken to improve the lives of those suffering from dementia and other related diseases. This can include daily exercise programs or cognitive or behavioural therapies for the person with the disorder.

It could be worrisome, not knowing the difference between normal aging changes in cognitive abilities from that of changes related to the different types of dementia. A guide would be helpful in these instances. You can use this guide on how memory and thinking ability change with age by Havard health publishing here [4]


SIGNS OF OLD AGE

The mental changes and how the mind changes with age is one part of the different signs of aging. Other body parts and their functions experience this decline as well. While these changes may be slowed down with some practices, they aren’t all completely avoidable. The changes that occur according to the other body systems are:

  1. Cardiovascular system: The most common change in the cardiovascular system is the stiffening of the blood vessels and arteries, causing your heart to work harder to pump blood through them. The heart muscles change to adjust to the increased workload. To promote heart health you should include physical activity in your daily routine, eat a healthy diet, avoid smoking, manage stress, and get enough sleep. [5]

  2. Musculoskeletal system: With age, bones tend to shrink in size and density, weakening them and making them more susceptible to fracture. You might even become a bit shorter. Muscles generally lose strength, endurance, and flexibility — factors that can affect your coordination, stability, and balance. [6] To promote musculoskeletal health, get adequate amounts of calcium and vitamin D, include physical activity in your daily routine, and avoid substance abuse.

  3. Digestive system: Age-related structural changes in the large intestine can result in more constipation in older adults. Medications, such as diuretics and iron supplements, and certain medical conditions, such as diabetes, also might contribute to constipation. To prevent constipation, eat a healthy diet, include physical activity in your daily routine, don’t ignore the urge to have a bowel movement. [7]

  4. Your urinary system: Your bladder may become less elastic as you age, resulting in the need to urinate more often. The weakening of bladder muscles and pelvic floor muscles may make it difficult for you to empty your bladder completely or cause you to lose bladder control (urinary incontinence)[8]. In men, an enlarged or inflamed prostate also can cause difficulty in emptying the bladder and incontinence. To promote your health, go to the toilet regularly, do kegel exercises, avoid smoking and alcohol, maintain a healthy weight and avoid bladder irritants. [9]

  5. There will be other changes and declination in your sight, hearing, dentition, hair, and skin appearance. These are not caused to worry, proper hygiene and care and regular check-ups will improve their appearance and health.



CARE FOR THE ELDERLY.

When caring for an elderly, aged person, it should be done with love, care and patience. While it may be stressful, it is important to remember that it’s also not easy for them to be dependent on you. It is important that you become familiar with ways to provide them with the best care possible. [10]

● Visit often.

● check their medications, make sure prescriptions are followed through and be sure they are well supplied with their needs

● There may be a need to hire help.

● Make modifications in their homes to make them more comfortable and less stressed,

● Take care of important paperwork.

● Keep them active, both physically and mentally. This is important to help improve their physical and mental health.

● Supply healthy meals

● Keep an eye on them. If you are somewhat tech savvy, you can install a camera or type of motion sensor to keep watch over them or that will alert you if something is wrong.[10]





References

  1. What Happens To The Brain as We Age? [Internet]. Medical News Today. 2020 [Cited 3 November, 2020]. Available from: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/319185#Normal-brain-aging

  2. How The Aging Brain Affects Thinking [Internet]. National Institute on Aging. 2020 [Cited 3 November 2020]. Available from: https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/how-aging-brain-affects-thinking

  3. Aging: Late Adulthood [Internet]. Lumen Learning. 2020 [Cited 3 November 2020]. Available from: https://courses.lumenlearning.com/boundless-psychology/chapter/aging-late-adulthood/

  4. How Memory and Thinking Ability Change With Age [Internet]. Harvard Health Publishing. 2020 [Cited 3 November 2020]. Available from: https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/how-memory-and-thinking-ability-change-with-age

  5. Heart health and aging [Internet]. National Institute on Aging. 2018 [cited 3 November 2020]. Available from: https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/heart-health-and-aging.

  6. Osteoporosis overview [Internet]. NIH Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases National Resource Center. 2018 [Cited 3 November 2020] Available from: https://www.bones.nih.gov/health-info/bone/osteoporosis/overview.

  7. Concerned about constipation [Internet]. National Institute on Aging. 2018 [Cited 3 November 2020]. Available from: https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/concerned-about-constipation.

  8. Urinary incontinence in older adults [Internet]. National Institute on Aging. 2018 [Cited 3 November 2020]. Available from: https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/urinary-incontinence-older-adults.

  9. Kegel exercises [Internet]. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. 2018 [Cited 3 November 2020]. Available from: https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/urologic-diseases/kegel-exercises.

  10. 12 Tips For Taking Care Of Elderly Loved Ones [Internet]. Love To Know. 2020 [Cited 3 November 2020]. Available from: https://seniors.lovetoknow.com/Tips_for_Taking_Care_of_Elderly


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