Most people assume that as they age, they will experience slower cognitive ability (memory, learning new information, slower cognitive processing, etc.). “Cognitive aging is a lifelong process” and just as the physical aging process varies from person to person, so does the mental or “cognitive” aging process. The normal cognitive declines that someone experiences associated with the aging process should be gradual and almost imperceptible to both the person and their family members.
A sudden decrease in cognitive ability (sudden problems remembering information; money management; forgetting important dates; not being able to remember information just read) can be indicative of an acute issue(s) that need to be addressed. These can include:
- Development of a urinary tract infection (UTI) or other infections. Women are especially prone for this.
- Sleep quality/disorders
- Vitamin B12 deficiency
- Metabolic disease, such as thyroid disease
- Medications (prescribed and over the counter)
One study reported that 9% of people with dementia like symptoms did not in fact have dementia, but had other conditions that were potentially reversible.
Any acute cognitive change noted in a patient or resident needs to be evaluated. Potential questions to ask:
1. Has there been a change in the medication you take and what over the counter medications are you taking?
2. How are you sleeping at night? Do you dream? Do you consistently have trouble getting to or staying asleep?
3. Has there been a recent life change event (death of a spouse/family member); financial issues; recent move (especially from a place they have lived for many years)?
4. Most recently completed physical?
If after a thorough assessment an identifiable cause cannot be identified, the individual should be referred for more a more in depth medical evaluation and a possible referral for neuro-cognitive testing.