There are many symptoms of cognitive decline which show that your brain is actually slowing down. It can happen at any age or for any number of reasons.
Determining whether your brain is functioning properly or not might be a bit confusing, but you should pay attention to certain kinds of situations. For instance, you may find it hard to understand new technology and gizmos even though you may have been considered a “techie” in the past. Also, you may find people talking to you slowly or repeating things for you so that you can easily understand them.
Your brain slowing down with age can be frustrating. However, cognitive decline can be reduced and addressed with appropriate measures and adequate help. Here are a few of the symptoms of cognitive decline:
1. Slower thought processes
Brain processing speed implies the rate at which a person takes in new information, reaches a judgment regarding it and formulates a response. Our information processing speed changes as we age, in the shape of an inverted U curve. From childhood to adolescence, our speed of thinking is relatively stable leading up to middle age, and from late middle age onward it starts to decline.
The cognitive decline in processing speed may be because of the regular wear and tear of the white matter in the brain, which is made of axons (wires) that connect the different parts of the brain together. As the speed of information transfer along axons slows down, the mental processing speed of a person also decreases.
This can be caused by diabetes, high blood pressure, smoking, or other vascular risk factors that wear away the blood vessels feeding the white matter in the brain.
It could also be a genetic predisposition to age-related white matter decay or it may be the first signs of neurodegenerative illnesses such as Alzheimer’s disease or Parkinson’s disease. Head trauma, such as concussions, may also play a role in the slow mental processing of the brain and general cognitive decline.
Whatever the degree of severity or cause may be, almost every person is affected by age when it comes to slowing down of information processing speed.
However, by paying attention to vascular risk factors, eating well, engaging in regular exercise and keeping the mind stimulated by challenging oneself intellectually, a person can sustain or improve the information processing speed in their brain.
2. Memory loss
When a person starts forgetting things, especially in the case of the elderly, we immediately tend to think it’s Alzheimer’s disease, but that is not the only cause of memory loss. It can happen at any age or for any number of reasons.
Regarding memory loss, Seth Gale, MD, a neurologist at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital, says,
“Patients might experience memory loss and describe their symptoms similarly, but a doctor can tease apart what parts of the brain are affected”.
Conditions other than Alzheimer’s disease that can cause memory loss and cognitive decline include sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a treatable disorder in which a person briefly stops breathing frequently through the night.
As the oxygen delivery to the brain is interrupted several hundred times during the night, it affects the spatial navigational memory. This, in turn, makes it difficult to remember important information like you may not be able to recall where you put the keys after locking the doors the previous night.
Mild memory problems can also be developed over time due to small silent strokes affecting smaller blood vessels. These can cause mild to severe changes in the brain called vascular cognitive impairment.
Several drugs also affect memory and include sleeping pills, antihistamines, antidepressants, some painkillers, anti-anxiety medicines, diabetes and cholesterol-lowering medication. Stress, anxiety and depression are also some of the factors that influence memory loss.
Additionally, nutritional deficiency of sufficient B12, one of the B vitamins essential for normal nerve function, can adversely affect memory too. Getting about 2.4 micrograms of B12 from sources such as meat, fish, dairy products or B12 vitamin-fortified food like cereal should address this deficiency efficiently.
3. Poor concentration
Poor concentration is usually considered as one of the symptoms of dementia such as Alzheimer’s disease. However, it can also be caused by other factors such as high fever, dehydration, vitamin deficiency, poor nutrition, reaction to medicines, problems with the thyroid gland, or a minor head injury.
At times, the elderly have emotional problems and needs that are incorrectly diagnosed as dementia. Feeling lonely, sad, bored, and worried are common problems that people usually experience when they retire or are coping with the death of close friends, relatives, or a spouse.
Trying to adapt to these changes can leave them confused and unable to remember or act clearly. Fortunately though, with the help of supportive friends and family members or counseling and treatment from a doctor, these emotional problems can be eased.
4. Brain fog
Brain fog makes it difficult to do simple tasks such as writing a letter or making a grocery list. Thinking quickly, remembering swiftly and even holding a conversation can become a challenge when brain fog sets in.
It is called a “fog” because it literally feels that the mind has become cloudy when one tries to think. People feel spaced out and mentally slow as if they are completely exhausted.
Brain fog can be the result of medication, mental illnesses or neurodegenerative diseases. In cases such as schizophrenia or Alzheimer’s, brain fog can be irreversible. A variety of factors, from a person’s lifestyle and daily habits to illnesses, can result in a brain fog.
Furthermore, communication, verbally or written, can become difficult to the point of frustration for a person experiencing brain fog. You may face an inability to concentrate and a steep decline in productivity.
As the psychomotor activities of a person slow down, so does the dopamine production, making it difficult to think critically and do tasks that require a significant degree of thought.
Decision-making can become so difficult that it may get challenging to decide between chicken or beef for dinner. Depression, disorganized thinking, being easily distracted, drowsiness, fatigue, forgetfulness, and an increase in the rate of errors in performing tasks are all symptoms of the cognitive decline due to mental fog.
To get rid of brain fog and experience mental clarity, it is necessary to determine its cause. If it is due to medical conditions, then you may need to consult a neurologist, doctor, or a psychiatrist.
Different causes require different treatments, for example, for those experiencing mental fog due to the result of severe stress, they should try meditation. Sleep and nutrition can help combat brain fog as well but need consistent maintenance to keep the mental fog at bay.
5. Feelings of slow motion
You feel like life around is in “slow-motion” or that you are swimming in maple syrup at a speed that is agonizingly sluggish. This is known as slow-motion anxiety and can affect all your senses at the same time or it can affect one sense at a time. It can occur rarely, frequently or might seem to become a part of your daily life.
It can be preceded by, accompanied with, or escalated by other anxiety symptoms or it can occur by itself too. Ranging from slight, to moderate and severe, it can come in waves where there is one strong moment that gradually tapers off.
Slow-motion anxiety makes you feel as if your brain is operating at a lower speed. It is triggered by stress and causes specific physiological, psychological and emotional changes as part of a flight-or-fight response.
When you are in a state of semi-emergency readiness, your nervous system and body cause many anomalies that are associated with the feeling of slowing down.
Practicing relaxed breathing through yoga or meditation and increasing your relaxing time is one way to combat this feeling.
A nutritious diet can go a long way in stopping your brain from a cognitive decline and combatting diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Having a balanced whole food diet that is rich in fruits like berries, cruciferous vegetables, whole grains, seeds, nuts, healthy oils and lean protein can help keep your mental prowess from declining.
Another way of influencing cognition is by listening to classical music, which can stimulate brain activity and improve your ability to focus and retain information.
By keeping active, eating healthy and doing activities that mentally challenge you, you can slow down the process of cognitive decline. However, in many cases, such as dementia, you need to seek out medical advice as soon as possible.
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I have a hard time making simple decisions. What can I do?