If you or someone you love is getting older, you know many signs of aging are obvious, like graying or thinning hair, wrinkles and fine lines, or having trouble seeing fine print. But what about the changes that happen in the brain?
You may have noticed a subtle shift in memory or that processing new information takes a little longer. But are these cognitive changes an inevitable part of getting older or is there any way to prevent a cognitive disability, like dementia, from developing with age?
At Modern Migraine MD, our board-certified providers Risa Ravitz, MD, and Aviva Engel, PA-C, specialize in helping patients with cognitive struggles—including older adults. We offer expert diagnosis and personalized care at our offices in Manhattan, New Jersey, Florida, and virtually in 13 states using HIPAA-secure telehealth.
The brain is complex, and cognitive symptoms can have different causes. For this reason, if you’re worried about cognitive changes, rather than trying to self-diagnose, it’s important to talk to a neurology provider who specializes in brain-related issues.
At the same time, a better understanding of age-related brain changes can help you identify any issues and know which questions to ask your provider. While you schedule your appointment, take a moment to learn more about age and cognitive changes and disabilities.
As you age, it's common to experience certain changes in your memory and thinking skills. For example, you might find yourself forgetting where you left your keys or struggling to recall a name.
You might even find words landing on the tip of your tongue more often or forget why you walked into a room. These moments can be frustrating, but they're often just part of the brain's natural aging process.
While what’s “normal” and what’s not is still under study by medical researchers, most studies show most people peak on tests involving thinking and memory around 30 and slowly decline over time.
However, cognitive impairments and disabilities that develop due to underlying issues are a different story. These conditions, such as Alzheimer's disease or other forms of dementia, involve more significant memory loss, difficulties with language, and changes in behavior.
They're not just an amplified version of normal aging but are caused by specific changes in the brain. These conditions make it challenging to get through everyday life and can trigger personality changes, changes in eating or hygiene habits, and even getting lost in familiar places.
The inevitability of cognitive disabilities as we age is a common misconception. While it's true that conditions like Alzheimer's disease and vascular dementia are more common in older adults, they aren’t a foregone part of aging.
In fact, all around the world, many people live into their later years while maintaining sharp, active minds. Other people develop mild cognitive impairment (MCI), a condition characterized by noticeable changes in cognitive abilities, including memory that doesn't interfere significantly with daily life.
The good news is that you can take steps to protect yourself from cognitive decline. Research shows that what you do everyday significantly affects the health of your brain as you get older. These include:
Having regular check-ups with your medical providers is another key step in keeping your brain in good shape. You should see your providers to manage any chronic conditions, like diabetes or hypertension, and a neurologist to manage any cognitive changes.
At Modern Migraine MD, your neurology provider can differentiate between normal age-related changes and more serious conditions. If they detect an issue, your provider can offer expert guidance on managing and slowing the progression of cognitive impairments.