100223 Cognitive Health and Older Adults part 5 What Is Dementia? Dementia, physical and mental health issues

100223 Cognitive Health and Older Adults part 5 What Is Dementia? Dementia, physical and mental health issues

Cognitive health  — the ability to clearly think, learn, and remember — is an important component of performing everyday activities. Cognitive health is just one aspect of overall brain health.

What Is Dementia? Dementia, physical and mental health issues

It’s normal to be a little more forgetful as we age. However, some difficulties with cognitive function, such as dementia and mild cognitive impairment (MCI) are more serious.

Dementia is the loss of cognitive functioning — thinking, remembering, and reasoning — and behavioral abilities to such an extent that it interferes with daily life and activities. Symptoms may include problems with language skills, visual perception, or paying attention. Some people have personality changes. There are different forms of dementia including Alzheimer’s disease, frontotemporal disorders, and Lewy body dementia.

MCI is a condition in which people have more memory or thinking problems than other people their age but can still do their normal daily activities. People with MCI are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than those without. However, not everyone with MCI will develop Alzheimer’s disease.

Physical and Mental Health Problems

Many health conditions affect the brain and pose risks to cognitive function. These conditions include:

  • Heart disease and high blood pressure — can lead to stroke and changes in blood vessels in the brain that can lead to dementia
  • Diabetes — damages blood vessels throughout the body, including in the brain; increases risk for stroke and heart attack; increases risk for Alzheimer’s
  • Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias — cause a buildup of harmful proteins and other changes in the brain that lead to memory loss and other thinking problems
  • Stroke — can damage blood vessels in the brain and increase risk for vascular dementia
  • Depression — can lead to confusion or attention problems and has been linked to dementia
  • Delirium — shows up as an acute state of confusion, often during a hospital stay, and is associated with subsequent cognitive decline

It’s important to prevent or seek treatment for these health problems. They affect your brain as well as your body and receiving treatment for other conditions may help prevent or delay cognitive decline or thinking problems.

Brain Injuries

Older adults are at higher risk of falls, car accidents, and other accidents that can cause brain injury. Alcohol and certain medicines can affect a person’s ability to drive safely and also increase the risk for accidents and brain injury. Learn about risks for falls and participate in fall prevention programs. Wear helmets and seat belts to help prevent head injuries as well. But don’t let a fear of falling keep you from being active. Overcoming this fear can help you stay active, maintain your physical health, and prevent future falls.


Some drugs and combinations of medicines can affect a person’s thinking and the way the brain works. For example, certain ones can cause confusion, memory loss, hallucinations, and delusions in older adults.

Medicines can also interact with food, dietary supplements, alcohol, and other substances. Some of these interactions can affect how your brain functions. Drugs that can harm older adults’ cognition include:

  • Antihistamines for allergy relief
  • Medicines for anxiety and depression
  • Sleep aids
  • Antipsychotics
  • Muscle relaxants
  • Some drugs that treat urinary incontinence
  • Medications for relief of cramps in the stomach, intestines, and bladder

Talk with your doctor if you’re concerned that your medications may be causing cognitive problems. Do not stop taking any medications you’ve been prescribed without first talking with your health care provider.

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