Home Mental Health & Well-Being Normal Ageing, Mild Cognitive Impairment, and Dementia—What Are the Differences?

Normal Ageing, Mild Cognitive Impairment, and Dementia—What Are the Differences?

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When we start to age, memory can decline. Usually, one of the first things to go is short-term memory.

Whether it’s remembering where you left your keys or if you left the oven on, we rely on our short-term memory to be there when we need it. Impacts on short-term memory, once they start, can be challenging, and sometimes that is just the beginning of cognitive impairment associated with ageing.

Luckily, there is much research being done to evaluate the causes and symptoms of cognitive decline due to ageing. And, modern day studies have found promising attributes in the human body that could potentially mitigate the effects of ageing. Things like the klotho protein and klotho therapy are being studied for use in the fight against ageing in the future.  

In the present, it is important to understand how ageing contributes to mild cognitive impairment and dementia. Sometimes it may be hard to tell the difference between normal cognitive decline and something more serious. For this reason, it’s important to know what the difference between the two is.

Normal ageing vs mild cognitive impairment

When we age normally, our brains can start to change slowly. For example, we might start to lose things easily or forget words that should come to us easily. Even though cognitive decline is a natural part of getting old, distinguishing between normal ageing and mild cognitive impairment is important.

Natural ageing affects these five aspects of our cognitive ability.

  • Processing speed. As we get older, our ability to process information slows down. As a result, we can’t think about tasks as complex as we used to think about, and we might take longer to come up with solutions to problems.
  • Attention. Our ability to focus starts to degrade over time. More complex tasks require more attention, but we may have to take these tasks much slower than we do now to achieve the same result as we age.
  • Memory. The ability to recall and remember events, words, and things.
  • Language. Speaking, reading, and writing are all complex cognitive functions that could be impacted by ageing.
  • Executive function. This is our ability to form independent thoughts in a self-serving manner. This includes planning, scheduling, self-monitoring, solving problems, and mental flexibility.

In normal ageing, our memory, processing speed, and attention are all impacted slightly. We might forget words or our keys sometimes, but nothing so serious to be concerned about.

However, mild cognitive impairment can affect all five cognitive aspects and be much more noticeable. 

Mild cognitive impairment is usually treatable and might come from a lack of something in our diet, lack of exercise, or lack of sleep as we get older. Fixing these deficiencies can help or treat mild cognitive impairment.

Dementia or mild cognitive impairment

Dementia is a more serious form of cognitive impairment. Dementia often starts out looking like mild cognitive impairment. They both impact all five primary cognitive functions, but dementia is not treatable and can decline rapidly.

The severity of cognitive loss is much more apparent in dementia. 

Signs of dementia:

  • Memory loss
  • Difficulty with tasks
  • Disorientation
  • Language problems
  • Poor judgment
  • Misplacing things
  • Loss of initiative

Take care of your mental health

One of the best ways to prevent mild cognitive impairment and dementia is to maintain a healthy and strong mind.

Playing memory games, engaging in abstract thinking, and exercise all contribute to preventing cognitive impairment. Our brains go through many changes as we age, so it’s important to invest in brain exercises and keep active to ensure a happy healthy life, well into old age. 

Dennis Relojo-Howell is the managing director of Psychreg.


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