aging & dementia

Today an estimated 610,000 Californians – 11 percent of all seniors – are living with Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia.  It is the state’s fifth-leading cause of death.  As California’s population ages, it is projected that 840,000 individuals will have the disease by 2025, a 42 percent increase in a decade.

A baseline neurocognitive assessment in adulthood can contribute to greater awareness of your risk for developing some specific condition or if you are in need of further diagnostic study as you get older.  By obtaining a baseline against which subsequent evaluations can be compared, we can use the data collected during the evaluation to make predictions about cognitive aging.  Over time, we can determine whether your functioning has declined because of some specific disease process, or document whether your functioning has worsened or improved as a result of treatment or lifestyle change.

MEMORY

Forming and retrieving personal memories is part of what makes us unique as individuals, and memory is a fundamental yet complex aspect of human cognition.  Most adults at one point or another will become concerned that their memory is getting worse as they get older.  This reaction is normal and most of the time does not reflect anything more than the natural aging process.  Yet, the reality is that dementia and other neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease do in fact emerge later in life, so in some cases an underlying disease process may be contributing.  If you or a loved one experiences difficulties with memory, we can help objectively determine the nature and severity of the problem, risk for dementia, and make appropriate recommendations.

OTHER COGNITIVE COMPLAINTS

Beyond memory, a few other of our neurocognitive abilities tend to decline or not be as sharp as we get older such as fluid reasoning and processing speed.  As a real-life example, the figure below reflects data from a large U.S. sample of over 3,200 healthy older adults who completed the same processing speed task each year for 10 consecutive years.

processing-speed

As can be seen, even healthy adults score about 10 points fewer every 10 years after age 70 on average.  Thus, we all process complex information more slowly as we get older, which is part of the normal aging process.  But, if we start to slowdown faster than expected, it can be a warning sign that might require further evaluation.  Neurocognitive testing has been used for the assessment and diagnosis of cognitive impairment and dementia in older adults in response to a suspected problem for many years.  However, we encourage even the healthiest of individuals aged 65 years and older to be proactive and obtain baseline neurocognitive data early on.  Subsequent, regular workups every few years are recommended as well to monitor any deviations from the normal trajectory that might indicate an underlying neurodegenerative process is forming.