Mental Function And Aging
Mental Function And Aging
Edward Schneider (MD, Senior Advisor, Los Angeles Jewish Home for the Aging) gives expert video advice on: Does mental function always decline with age?; What is 'delirium'?; What causes delirium? and more...
Does mental function always decline with age?
No, mental function does not always decline with aging. With some people, it declines rapidly as they get older, and some people lose very little of their mental functioning with aging. We have professors in their late 80s, and early 90s that are doing great. I have individuals in the Jewish Home and other nursing facilities in their 60s. So it depends on the individual. It's very individual-specific.
What is 'delirium'?
Delirium is a cute loss of mental functioning. Dementia is a loss of mental functioning that's permanent, and long term. Delirium is short term. It occurs frequently in hospitals. Someone is having surgery and after surgery they don't know where they are and they don't know who you are and they want to get out of here; and that's delirium. Dementia is more slow loss of mental functioning over time, over years, or maybe even over decades.
What causes delirium?
A whole variety of things can cause delirium. Medications can cause delirium, metabolic problems, and the state you are in after surgery. Those are a few causes of delirium. Delirium is much more common among older people than it is among younger people.
What is 'dementia'?
Dementia is the most common mental problem affecting older people. It's a loss of memory. It's disorientation. It's confusion. It's loss of judgement as you get older. It's that group of things. A lot of people get worried that they have dementia when they're in their sixties because they forgot where their keys are or they forgot a name. That's not dementia. That's normal memory loss with aging. Dementia is much more serious, when you don't know the name of somebody you should know the name of, and you're making really poor judgement decisions.
What causes dementia?
Dementia can be caused by all kinds of things. It can be caused by Alzheimer's disease, it can be caused by vitamin B-12 deficiency, it can be caused by thyroid disease, it can be caused by a brain tumor, it can be caused by strokes.
What is Alzheimer's disease?
Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia. It's characterized by loss of memory, poor judgment, disorientation and confusion. It's slowly progressive, and it can go rapidly over four or five years, or it can go very slowly over ten to twenty years. It's the progressive downhill loss of mental functioning.
What causes Alzheimer's disease?
We don't know what exactly causes Alzheimer's disease, but current research is focused on the molecule called amyloid. This is a very common molecule in your body. And as it's processed in your brain it may be processed in Alzheimer's victim in a wrong way. The result is an accumulation of bitter amyloid, and this bitter amyloid is very damaging to brain cells. And that's what we believe causes Alzheimer's disease.
How common is Alzheimer's in America?
There are probably over 4 million people in America today with Alzheimer's disease, with this devastating condition. For example, at a place like the Jewish Home here in Los Angeles, about 50 percent of the people would have Alzheimer's disease. So it's very, very common among the older population. Your risk of Alzheimer's disease at age 65 years is 2 percent, and your risk at 85 years old is 30 to 40 percent. So the risk increases as you get older. If you make it to 90, you probably have a 50 percent or more chance of developing Alzheimer's disease.
What's the best aspect of aging?
The good part about aging is that a lot of the stresses that I had in my early life are gone. That I don't have to worry any more about my career, I don't have to worry about a lot of the small things that I was consumed with as a teenager or as a young adult. I've developed wisdom, I've developed a body of knowledge now that I can refer to. Life is a lot calmer, a lot more well-structured, a lot less stressful.
What is 'senescent forgetfulness' or 'senility'?
Senility is a very bad term. It's what we used to say 30 years ago. We'd say "Grandpa is senile", but Grandpa probably had Alzheimer's disease - that is, Grandpa had problems with memory, disorientation, confusion, judgment and that was Alzheimer's disease. But those days we didn't call it that, we called it senility. Bad term - we've gotten rid of it.