Aging Brain

How Does Aging Change The Brain?

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How does the brain store information?

Information is stored in different parts of your memory.  Information stored in recent memory may include what you ate for breakfast this morning.  Information stored in the short-term memory may include the name of the person you met moments ago.

Information stored in the remote or long term memory includes things that you stored in your memory years ago, such as memories of childhood.


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How does aging change the brain?

When you’re in your 20’s you begin to lose cells a few at a time.  Your body also starts to make less of the chemicals your brain cells need to work.  The older you are, the more these changes can affect your memory.

Aging may affect memory by changing the way the brain stores information and by making it harder to recall stored information.

Your short-term and remote memories aren’t usually affected by aging.  But your recent memory may be affected.  For example, you may forget names of people you’ve met today or where you set your keys.  These are normal changes.

What is Dementia?

Dementia is a brain disorder that makes it hard for people to remember, learn and communicate.  These changes eventually make it hard for people who have dementia to care for themselves.  Dementia may cause changes in mood and personality.  Early on, lapses in memory and clear thinking may bother the person who has dementia.  Later, disruptive behavior and other problems can create a burden for caregivers and other family members.

Dementia is caused by the damage of brain cells.  A head injury, stroke, brain tumor or disease (such as Alzheimer’s disease) can damage brain cells and lead to dementia.


What are the symptoms of dementia?

Recent Memory Loss.  All of us forget things for awhile and then       remember them later.  People who have dementia often forget things, but they never remember them.  They might ask you the same question over and over, each time forgetting that you’ve already given them the answer.  They won’t even remember that they already asked the question.

Difficulty performing familiar tasks.  People who have dementia might cook a meal but forget to serve it.  They might even forget they cooked it.

Problems with language.  People who have dementia may forget simple words or use the wrong words.  This makes it hard to understand what they want.

Time and place disorientation.  People who have d dementia may get lost on their own street.  They forget how they got to a certain place and how to get back home.

Poor judgement.  Even a person who doesn’t have dementia might get distracted.  But people who have dementia can forget simple things, like forgetting to put a coat on before going out in cold weather.

Problems with abstract thinking.  Anybody might have trouble balancing a checkbook, but people who have dementia may forget what the numbers are and what has to be done with them.

Misplacing Things.  People who have dementia may put things in the wrong places.  They might put an iron in the freezer or a wristwatch in the sugar bowl. Then they can’t find these things later.

How can I tell if my memory problems are serious?

What about when I know a word and can’t recall it?

This is usually just a glitch in your memory.  You can always remember the word with time.  This may become more common as you age.  It can be very frustrating, but it is not usually serious.

A memory problem is serious when it affects your daily living.  If you sometimes forget names, you’re probably okay.  But you may have a more serious problem if you have trouble remembering how to do things you’ve done many times before, get to a place you’ve been often, or do things that require steps (such as following a recipe).

Another difference between normal memory problems and dementia is that normal memory loss doesn’t get much worse over time.  Dementia gets worse over several months to a year.

Diagnosis & Tests

What should I I do if I think I have dementia?

Talk with your doctor.  Your doctor can do tests to find out if your experiences are caused by dementia.  The sooner you know, the sooner you can talk to your doctor about treatment options.

What should I do if a family member is showing signs of dementia?

If your family member is showing some signs of dementia, try to get him or her to go see a doctor.  You may want to go along and talk with the doctor before your relative sees him or her.  Then you can tell the doctor about the way your relative is acting without embarrassing your relative.


How is dementia treated?

Some causes of dementia can be treated.  However, once brain cells have been destroyed, they cannot be replaced.  Treatment may slow or stop the loss of more brain cells.  When the cause of dementia can’t be treated, the focus of care is on helping the person with his or her daily activities and reducing upsetting symptoms.  Some medications can help people with dementia.  Your family doctor will talk with you about treatment options.


Why do people who have dementia become agitated?

The agitation can have many causes.  A sudden change in surroundings or frustrating situations can cause people who have dementia to become agitated.  For example, getting dressed or giving the wrong answer to a question may cause frustration.  Being challenged about the confusion or inability to do things caused by the dementia may also make the person agitated.  As a result, the person may cry, become irritable, or try to hurt others in some way.

How can I deal with agitation?

One of the most important things you can do is avoid situations in which your loved one might become frustrated.  Try to make your loved one’s task less difficult. For example, instead of expecting him or her to get dressed alone, you can just have your loved one put on one piece of the outfit (such as a jacket) on his or her own.

Questions to Ask Your Doctor

Can dementia be prevented?

Are there any support groups for caregivers of people with dementia?

What types of medicines treat dementia?

Does dementia run in families?

Do people with dementia ever get better?

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