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What To Do When You See Someone Changes/Has Cognitive Impairment

Cognitive decline is one of the most common and significant fears for people who are over the age of 50. Even though Americans are living longer today than at any time in the past, the quality of our later years can be significantly hampered by memory loss, general confusion, the inability to focus, and other common symptoms of dementia.
 
The statistical increase in the number of individuals with Alzheimer’s and other related types of dementia can reduce the long-term quality of life and be just as debilitating to family and friends of the affected person. It is estimated that one out of every three seniors will develop some form of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
 
While these statistics are certainly alarming, there are steps that can be taken to reduce these fears. Early identification and testing are often key for developing a treatment strategy for extending quality of life and reducing the rate of cognitive decline. 
 
Identifying Early Signs Of Cognitive Decline
 
Individuals with mild cognitive impairment are typically more forgetful than peers of the same age. However, they might not yet experience some of the more significant problems associated with dementia, like disorientation or confusion during routine activities.
 
These types of people often take longer to perform basic tasks like paying bills, going shopping for basic items, and preparing meals. Sufferers are typically able to still live independently, yet often become less socially active.
 
A study conducted in 2010 sampled around 2,000 people over the age of 70. They found that roughly 16% of people who didn’t have dementia, were still suffering from a mild degree of cognitive impairment.
 
The study also found that males are more likely to suffer from cognitive decline than females. Yet it might also mean that women could be experiencing dementia at a later average age. The study also looked at known factors for late-onset of Alzheimer’s disease. This includes things like being a carrier of the APOE e4 gene. Never having been married, as well as having less than nine years of education.
 
A related study performed in 2011, measured 1,300 women who were over the age of 85. It found that 23% had been diagnosed with some degree of mild cognitive impairment. This means that increased screening measures need to be taken for women in this age range. 
 
What Are Early Symptoms Of Cognitive Decline?
 
Cognitive decline can start to show up in a variety of ways. Taken alone a single symptom might not seem to be a sign of a serious problem or may be related to some other health issue. Yet, any symptoms of cognitive decline should not be dismissed. Early detection of symptoms and screening are imperative for developing a successful treatment plan.
 
Symptoms to watch out for in yourself or another:
 
The individual is experiencing more difficulties in multiple cognitive areas, like memory, maintaining focus, or using language that is uncommon for their age or educational background.
 
Difficulty learning or retaining new information can also be an early sign of cognitive impairment. It is often common in individuals who start to develop Alzheimer's-related dementia.
 
Having difficulties performing complex tasks like bill paying bills, meal preparation, and basic shopping. This might not seem immediately obvious, yet the individual may gradually start to take more time or make more mistakes than in the past.
 
Many people suffering from mild cognitive decline will often have a friend, family member, or medical professional notice a change in their behavior. 
 
There should be objective evidence of progressive cognitive decline over time. Cognitive testing can assess the degree of impairment. Scores for people with mild cognitive impairment are usually 1 to 1.5 standard deviations below the mean for their age and education level. 
 
How Is Cognitive Decline Diagnosed?
 
If you have noticed common symptoms of cognitive decline in yourself or a loved one, a prompt professional diagnosis should be sought. With early detection, cognitive decline’s progression can often be slowed.
 
Fortunately, neurological testing, screening, and assessment techniques have improved in recent years to help catch cognitive decline, dementia, and signs of Alzheimer’s disease. There are various cognitive tests that serve to assess both immediate and delayed recall problems. They can also help identify mild cognitive impairment in individuals before it progresses into Alzheimer's dementia.
 
This might include things like a Free and Cued Selective Reminding Test, a Rev Auditory Verbal Learning Test or the California Verbal Learning Test.
 
There are other tests that a doctor or other specialists might use to help identify impairment in problem-solving, as well as reasoning and language. One common technique includes asking a patient to learn a street address, then they are asked to recall it after a delay or a change in subject.  
 
It’s also worth bearing in mind that there are vascular and medical illnesses which might also explain the decline in cognitive ability, and they might also need to be ruled out in the diagnostic process.
 
There are also individuals who carry a genetic defect, or a mutation in APP, PS1 or PS2, which is known to increase the chances of suffering from mild cognitive impairment related to the onset of Alzheimer's disease. On average individuals who carry these markers tend to develop Alzheimer's disease before 65 years old.  
 
An individual who is diagnosed with signs of mild cognitive impairment and also carries the apolipoprotein E gene is more likely to progress to Alzheimer's dementia than someone who lacks that specific gene.
 
There are also some biomarker proteins that are found in spinal fluid as well as newly developed imaging tests like the positron-emission tomography scans that can help diagnose cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease.
 
There are also doctors who look for specific beta-amyloid and tau proteins in the brain of a person affected by Alzheimer's disease. Identifying these proteins can potentially help pinpoint the underlying cause of mild cognitive impairment. It could play an important role in developing an effective treatment plan.
 
What Can Be Done To Reduce The Progression Of Cognitive Decline?
 
A growing body of research continues to find several lifestyle and treatment factors that can help prevent or reduce the rate of cognitive impairment. This includes things like regular exercise, memory care and improvements in diet. Even individuals over the age of 70 who participate in moderate physical exercise such as taking a brisk walk or riding a stationary bike were less likely to develop mild cognitive impairment or saw the rate of cognitive impairment decline.
 
There have also been some extensive studies that found a diet with more heart-healthy monosaturated and polyunsaturated fats helped reduce the risks of suffering mild cognitive impairment. The essential fatty acids are found in things like olive oil, certain tree nuts, seafood, and certain vegetable oils. They appear to help prevent inflammation while also reducing the risk of cardiovascular problems like blood clots, stroke, and heart disease.
 
There have been a few studies that found moderate consumption of alcohol helped slow the progression of mild cognitive decline. It’s worth noting that moderate drinking was defined as up to one drink per day slowed the rate of progression of mild cognitive impairment by up to 85 percent. With wine showing the most benefits.  
 
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