Many of us are well aware that as we get older, our minds can often not feel like how they used to. The severity of the impact varies from one person to the next and can be anything from forgetting where you put your keys a little too often to not being able to remember where you live or the last thing you have done. How does this happen?
This piece will take a look at how age impacts cognition and what we need to prepare for.
First off, let us look at attention. As we get older, our attention spans can be affected. This can impact anything from everyday tasks such as driving or cooking to trying something new. While it might not be a massive problem to many, it can be dangerous if someone is physically unable to pay attention to the task they are doing. This could cause harm to themselves or others. That being said, that is a worst-case scenario and is often seen with other cognitive decline issues.
More commonly, older people will have problems multi-tasking or being able to focus on a lot of things at once. So, if your grandpa is sitting happily in the corner with no idea what is going on at a family gathering – that might just be why.
Language is another area of the brain that can be affected as someone gets older and can be perhaps noticeable in conversation. While elderly adults often retain their vocabulary and understanding of written words, they struggle to find the right word during a conversation and might experience prolonged pauses. Understanding certain speech might also become difficult, especially if someone is talking fast, slurred, or has a strong accent. This is because mental processing is required for someone to make sense of what is being said to them. This can sometimes lead to them repeating back an entire difference sentence to you! However, this is usually found in adults with hearing difficulties and does not always happen to everyone. If you do notice some changes in your loved one, remember that there are plenty of options you can try to help reduce cognitive decline.
As if aging was not enough, the way we process emotions can start to change as we go into our later years. But perhaps not in the way you would expect! Interestingly, the ‘grumpy old man’ persona could very well not grace you with its presence, as there is a common phenomenon called the positivity effect. This suggests that as people age, they start to develop a more positive outlook and can brush off negative emotions more efficiently than their younger relatives. They might also find that they have a positive bias, choosing to focus on or remember the good events, words, and situations over any negative ones. That being said, this can make it difficult if you are trying to plan some of the more, unfortunately, eventualities of life, such as an end life care plan or a funeral.