Dementia and Cognitive Decline

Body Mind on Dementia MapSubmitted by Beth Rush
Founder and Managing Editor
Body+Mind Magazine

The mind is a fragile space — and the prospect of cognitive impairment is enough to worry anyone. Unfortunately, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and loss of brain functioning are prevalent worldwide.

Knowing the causes and signs of dementia is critical to ensuring proper treatment and preparations are in place. Here’s a guide to understanding dementia and ways you can cope at the onset of cognitive decline.

How Does Dementia Affect Cognition?

Brain health impacts your learning and thinking capabilities, memory, motor functions, emotions and response to sensations. When you experience cognitive impairment, you’ll notice many of these functions grow increasingly difficult to control.

Although many expect some forgetfulness as we age, mild loss of cognition or the onset of acute dementia is far more concerning. There are various types of dementia, but Alzheimer’s accounts for 60–70% of cases. Other variations include vascular and Lewy dementias.

With dementia, the inability to think, remember, and reason impedes daily living. Some people may struggle to speak or recall words, while an incapacity to receive and interpret stimuli is another common side effect. In severe cases, cognitive decline may trigger a personality change.

The sudden shifts in cognitive ability are challenging for those experiencing symptoms, their families and caregivers. As a result, it should be little surprise that people with moderate and severe dementia have 41% and 37% prevalence of depression, respectively.

A medical professional can screen individuals who notice a difference in brain function — and it’s essential to get checked. Approximately one-third of mild cognitive decline cases result in Alzheimer’s disease within five years.

Prevalence of Dementia and Cognitive Decline

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that 5 million adults over 65 were living with dementia in 2014 — however, that number is expected to increase to 14 million by 2060.

The Alzheimer’s Association also indicates that 6.5 million Americans had Alzheimer’s disease in 2022 — 73% were over 75 years old.

While dementia and cognitive decline can affect anyone, regardless of gender, worldwide, researchers have suggested that women are more susceptible than men. In one particular study, findings showed that women might reach cognitive decline 4.72 years faster than men.

It’s important to note that dementia and cognitive decline are not standard parts of aging — most older adults have healthy brain functioning with little-to-no cognitive decline.

Risk Factors and Causes

A person’s susceptibility to dementia and cognitive decline may be higher based on genetic factors. Genetic researchers have discovered three single-gene mutations associated with a higher risk of Alzheimer’s dementia as follows:

  • Amyloid precursor protein (APP) gene
  • Presenilin 1 (PSEN1) gene
  • Presenilin 2 (PSEN2) gene

Any signs of mutations of these three genes could indicate future concerns. To check for the genes, doctors can refer you for laboratory tests.

Like genetics, age and Down syndrome are inevitable risk factors. However, you can reduce most risks of developing dementia by addressing the following lifestyle changes:

  • Improving your diet and physical activity
  • Reducing alcohol use
  • Lowering your risk for cardiovascular diseases, such as by reducing your blood pressure and cholesterol levels
  • Managing your depression
  • Controlling your diabetes
  • Quitting smoking
  • Reducing your exposure to air pollutants
  • Improving your sleep
  • Ensuring your vitamin levels are sufficient
  • Avoiding medications that increase your risk of developing dementia

Although melatonin can help dementia patients sleep better, past studies indicate adverse effects on their condition.

Likewise, researchers have found that older adults taking benzodiazepines to treat anxiety and insomnia may increase their risk of cognitive decline.

What Are the Signs of Dementia?

Those susceptible to cognitive decline should look for the following signs and symptoms of dementia:

  • Increasing forgetfulness
  • Difficulty recalling memories
  • Becoming lost in familiar places
  • Losing sense of time or train of thought
  • Missing events and appointments more frequently
  • Struggling to get through a conversation
  • Difficulty with decision-making
  • Short temper
  • Anxiety and depression
  • More family and friends mention they notice a difference

Symptoms may present themselves differently according to the stage of cognitive degeneration. For example, someone in the middle stage may forget names, grow more confused at home and need personal care.

In the later stages, individuals may become wholly dependent on at-home or assisted living care.

If you or someone close to you has noticed early signs of cognitive decline, you should reach out to your physician.

Coping Strategies for Cognitive Decline

Managing cognitive decline can be emotionally, mentally and physically taxing regardless of the stage. For many, losing their mind, memory, and the ability to recognize loved ones is scary.

Here are six coping strategies for you and your caregiver to help you navigate the changes.

make lists for cognitive decline
Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

1. Make Lists

When noticing mild cognitive decline, it’s essential to jot down symptoms and challenging tasks. Keeping a record of the changes will make it easier for you to relay important information to your medical care team.

This is especially critical if you currently take medications — writing daily reminders for yourself to take your pills can help.

Those who aren’t tech-savvy may find it easier to track changes in a notebook. Just keep the notebook someplace where you’ll see it daily.

2. Choose Your Approach

Some people may do several lab tests and scans to understand their cognitive decline and determine the correct treatment approach. Others may prefer to ride their symptoms out over time. There may also be clinical trials and treatment studies you can participate in.

Educating yourself on dementia and gaining awareness of your deteriorating brain is also less aggressive but helpful for guiding your next care steps.

3. Set Attainable Goals

Cognitive decline is often frustrating, especially when you cannot recall or do things you could before. Therefore, it’s essential to set attainable goals.

For one thing, dementia and cognitive decline require giving up control of daily activities.

Breaking things down — everyday tasks, places you need to go and people you need to meet — is best for tackling your day head-on.

4. Stay Active

stay active for cognitive decline
Photo by Naassom Azevedo on Unsplash

When you notice signs of memory loss or have difficulty speaking, you might feel slightly embarrassed to interact with friends, family and strangers. However, staying active and social is necessary for coping with a diagnosis.

Activity and socializing can often slow down dementia and Alzheimer’s disease’s progression. Consider gardening, biking, walking or aerobics to keep your brain as sharp as possible.


5. Ask for Help

With a diagnosis of dementia or cognitive decline comes a challenging transition. To cope better, find your support team.

Having a partner, relative or friend by your side can ease some of the worry and pain surrounding your diagnosis. It may also be helpful to have a trusted person advocate for your care if your condition worsens.

Dementia and cognitive impairment is no fault of your own, and you have nothing to feel ashamed about in asking for help. Nobody should have to navigate this difficult road alone.

6. Make a Plan

There’s no telling how quickly cognitive decline will occur. Therefore, it’s best to develop a plan of care to ensure you receive the medical and personal attention you need. A comprehensive care plan will also help to prepare your loved ones for your increasing dependence on them.

A care plan might include the following:

  • Your care team, including primary doctors and specialists
  • A designated caregiver who’s authorized to make decisions on your behalf
  • Information regarding your finances
  • Where you’d prefer to go to assisted living if need be
  • Essential details about your health, including allergies and medications
  • Your living will

Having these items in place is critical for when you’re unable to remember or communicate your needs.

Life Doesn’t End With Cognitive Decline

You may feel a rush of emotions with mild cognitive decline. The prospect of worsening memory loss and daily living may produce a sense of fear and uncertainty. However, continuing to seek and find enjoyment in the people, things and places you love is crucial for your mental well-being.


Body Mind on Dementia Map

Beth Rush
Body+Mind Magazine

Beth Rush is a Founder and the Managing Editor at Body+Mind and a lover of all things health and wellness. She is a well-respected writer in the personal wellness space and shares knowledge on a variety of topics related to nutrition, fitness, holistic health and disease prevention.

In her spare time, Beth enjoys cooking healthy recipes and trying out new fitness trends.

Visit Beth on Dementia Map or on her website.

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