Cognitive Changes in Seniors as We Age

Our ability to store and recall information we have received or experienced is what we refer to as memory.  Memory helps us perform everyday tasks like remembering names, appointments, directions, and even passwords (Ouch!).  Our identity and personality, and relationships are also shaped by our memory.

cognitive changes

As we age, it is common to experience some changes in memory and other cognitive functions, such as language, reasoning, and attention.  Most often, these changes are  mild and do not interfere with our normal ability to function normally.   They are part of the normal aging processes that affect our brains, such as:

  • Slowing of nerve cell communication
  • Degrading of nerve cell connections
  • Reducing blood flow and oxygen supply
  • Accumulating waste products and toxins

Factors that may contribute to common age-related changes in memory include:

physical inactivity


  • Fatigue
  • Stress
  • Excess use of alcohol and tobacco
  • Side effects of medication
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Poor Nutrition
  • Physical inactivity
  • Lack of sleep
  • Anxiety
  • Depression

Nevertheless, not all memory issues are normal or harmless.   Some memory issues can indicate a more serious condition, such as mild cognitive impairment or Alzheimer’s.  These conditions can affect now only memory but also other aspects of behavior and thinking.  They can well impair our ability to perform daily activities, such as driving, managing finances, correctly managing medications, or maintaining personal hygiene.


There are some indicators that may suggest a more serious memory problem.  These may include:


  • Repeating the same question over and over again
  • Difficulty following instructions or directions
  • Getting lost in familiar places
  • Repeating stories or words
  • Forgetting important events or appointments
  • Difficulty recognizing faces of names
  • Frequently misplacing items and being unable to find them
  • Difficulty recognizing faces or names
  • Poor decision-making or judgment
  • Showing changes in personality or mood changes
  • Becoming agitated, confused, or withdrawn

Should you notice any of these changes in yourself or a loved one, it’s best to consult a physician or medical professional for a proper diagnosis and treatment.  Some memory issues may be treatable, such as infections, thyroid disorders, dehydration, depression, or vitamin deficiencies.  Other issues with memory may be due to progressive brain diseases such as Alzheimer's.

At this time, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, but early diagnosis and treatment can help slow down the progression and improve the quality of life person and their caregivers.

To Prevent or Cope with Memory Problems

The reality is, we are all susceptible to changes in our memory because we are all aging.  Still, there are changes we can make to help prevent or at least cope with those changes.  Here are a few suggestions:

senior learning


  • Keep your brain active by learning new skills, games, hobbies, or languages
  • It’s important to stay socially engaged by spending time with family, friends, neighbors, or community groups.
  • Get regular exercise to improve blood circulation and oxygen delivery to the brain
  • Eat a balanced diet to include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, lean proteins, and water.
  • Eliminate smoking and limit alcohol intake to reduce the risk of brain damage
  • Get adequate sleep (7-9 hours each night) to help consolidate memory and enhance brain function
  • Manage stress by practicing  relaxation techniques, like yoga, meditation, breathing exercises, or massage
  • Seek help if you suffer from depression or feel anxious for more than two weeks
  • Use memory aids such as notes, calendars, alarms, or apps to remind you of important information or tasks
  • Organize your space by keeping your belongings in designated places and labeling items as needed
  • Verbally repeat information or write it down to help you remember it later
  • Associate new information with something meaningful or familiar to you
  • Break down complex information into smaller chunks or categories
  • Review information often and test yourself on it   
  • Repeat information out loud or write it down to help you remember it better.
  • Associate new information with something familiar or meaningful to you.
  • Break down complex information into smaller chunks or categories.
  • Review information frequently and test yourself on it

Memory problems can be a source of frustration and worry for many of us as we age.. However, by understanding what is normal and what is not, seeking medical attention when needed, and adopting healthy lifestyle habits and strategies, we can prevent or cope with memory problems and maintain our cognitive health and well-being.

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