Everyone experiences slight cognitive changes as we age. But what is normal change or cognitive decline? What’s the difference between normal brain aging and Alzheimer’s? While the best way to test if you are concerned is with the appropriate medical professional, here are some key differences between normal cognition changes and the far side of the dementia spectrum-Alzheimer’s.

Brain Declines In Older Adults

As we age, our brains experience some degree of cognitive decline or change. There are 3 main ways the brain changes throughout life: neuronal, size/volume, and memory changes. Neuronal changes refers to the neurons in your brain. Both the size and function of these neurons decline as we age. Both the size and volume decrease in later adulthood. This can be attributed to several different factors. It’s been shown that by age 80, the brain is 5% lighter than in middle adulthood.

So what’s normal and what’s not?

Below is a summary of normal brain cognitive changes compared with typical Alzheimer changes.

Normal Cognitive Aging Alzheimer Disease
Some neuronal decline Extensive loss of neurons
Some variable changes in cognition Severe & progressive decline
Some neurodegeneration occurs Severe & chronic neurodegeneration
General slowing of daily activities Worsened activities of daily living
Losing things from time to time Misplacing things with little recall
Occasional word-finding issues Difficult to hold a conversation
Missing a monthly bill Inability to manage budget

The first few happen, but without imaging you can’t tell. These are more root of the problem items. The last 4 items in each list is what you could call the symptoms of the first 3 items.

Can You Improve Your Cognition?

You’ve probably heard of brain plasticity. It’s a concept that given the right stimulus the brain and adapt and change at any age. So yes, you can improve your cognition. The sooner you start, the better off you will be. However, it’s not as simple as just doing a sudoku puzzle.

Below is a graph from the Harvard Medical school that shows that in order to make a change in your brain later in your life, you must exert more effort than when you are even 2 years younger.

cognitive-effort-older-adults

While not impossible to change your brain, it definitely requires a LOT of effort. So how much is the right dosage? That’s where working with a professional can help. That’s our job to dial in your exercise prescription to be at just the right intensity to see a positive effect without over doing it.

Work Smarter or Harder?

Just because something is hard, doesn’t mean it’s not possible. By utilizing the best practices from the latest research you can stimulate the brain and body in novel and complex ways that really have profound effects on the four main domains of cognition: memory, executive function, reaction, and attention.