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Age brings wisdom and temperance, but it can bring that proverbial senior moment as well. It’s that instant when you cannot recall the name of your longtime neighbor, or you forget where you put your glasses, or whether you turned off the stove. Granted, the task of remembering a name is not easy in itself. The name is filed into your long-term memory, and you may need a cue or trigger to retrieve it. Blanking out like this gives an idea of what age-related cognitive decline can entail. Fortunately, there are ways to stave off this decline.

What Is Mild Cognitive Impairment?

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Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is the term that is used when critical thinking, memory, and/or language and communication skills are somewhat compromised, but do not prevent day-to-day functioning. For some, MCI progresses to more significant cognitive diminishment in the form of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. But for the majority of people with MCI, it is simply a "new normal" to which self and loved ones must acclimate. And one in five actually witness a reversal of the symptoms and regain more cognitive faculties over the span of months or years.

A loved one with this level of impairment may show these signs and symptoms:
● Compromised reasoning and judgment
● Can’t make decisions
● Gets distracted and loses focus
● Forgets and repeats conversations
● Forgets appointments
● Forgets names of people
● Cannot always remember words

Do our brains shrink as we age?

The brain's cortical thickness and volume do shrink to a degree with age, especially in the frontal cortex. This loss of brain mass has cognitive consequences, but need not fundamentally alter a person's ability to navigate the world. Beyond this normal shrinkage, the loss of gray matter can be much greater for people with dementia.

At what age does MCI appear?

According to the American Academy of Neurology, AAN, mild impairment shows up in 8 percent of people age 65 to 69, up to 15 percent of people age 75 to 79, and up to 37 percent of people age 85 and older.

What Is Moderate Cognitive Impairment?

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Dementia is a more serious impairment than MCI. It is an umbrella term and Alzheimer’s is its most common form. In fact, Alzheimer’s accounts for 60 to 80 percent of all dementias. Also, dementia is not a specific disease; there are different types of dementia including Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, frontotemporal, Huntington's disease, vascular dementia, among others. All of these can affect a person’s memory, judgment, attention, language, and more. Alzheimer’s disease causes dementia in 70 percent of cases, therefore it’s easy to confuse Alzheimer’s with dementia.

Here are signs and symptoms you may see in your loved one:
● Loss of memory
● Loss of reasoning and judgment
● Poor decision-making
● Cannot focus
● Forgets and repeats conversations
● Forgets appointments
● Forgets names of people
● Cannot remember words, phone numbers
● Trouble with communication
● Trouble with visual and spatial tasks
● Cannot problem-solve
● Feels confused
● No sense of time and place
● May wander off
● Cannot carry out everyday chores and tasks
● Mood swings, angry outbursts
● Personality changes

Does my mom know that she has dementia?

In the early stages of dementia, your loved one may be aware that something is wrong, but they may not be sure why. Largely, they are not aware that they have dementia, and trying to convince them that there is a problem can be difficult. It may lead to arguments and mistrust on your loved one’s part. Instead, remain calm and loving to reduce their agitation and confusion.

At what age can a person develop dementia?

The risk of dementia increases as we age. Alzheimer’s disease, for example, occurs in 5 percent of people between 65 and 75, with risk steadily increasing the older we get. In fact, almost half of people age 85 or older develop Alzheimer’s, and about 5 to 6 percent of these people will show symptoms before age 65. While it is rare, early-onset Alzheimer’s can appear in people in their 30s and 40s.

What Is Severe Cognitive Impairment?

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Alzheimer’s develops when the brain builds up plaque and neurons die off. These plaques are known as amyloid plaques made up of beta-amyloid protein cells, they are hard and tough and they gather between nerve cells. According to research from Boston University, when the plaques first form, they don’t necessarily cause problems, but once the brain's clean-up cells arrive for the body’s immune response, they begin to react to the plaques, and an inflammatory reaction occurs that disrupts communication between brain cells and interferes with brain function.

When do you first notice Alzheimer’s symptoms?

Alzheimer’s disease starts in the brain years before symptoms are noticeable. Over time, day-to-day function may be normal while thinking and memory become affected. In this stage, sometimes called mild cognitive impairment due to Alzheimer’s disease, it becomes too hard to learn new things and remember things, like a doctor's appointment. Your loved one may also misplace their belongings and have difficulty in finding the words they want to express.

When does everyday function become impaired?

In subsequent stages, memory loss and confused thinking may interfere with managing everyday life, such as shopping for groceries and paying bills. Later, dressing and bathing become difficult. In acute stages, the sufferer may become incontinent, not recognize family members, and have difficulty communicating. The progression from mild to severe can take from four to 12 years.

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