Signs of a Normal Aging Mind

Our Cognitive Abilities Over Time

Cognitive abilityStable over time, generallyDeclines over time, generally
IntelligenceCrystalized intelligence – which means knowledge or experience accumulated over timeFluid intelligence – which means abilities not based on experience or
MemoryRemote memory – which means recall of past events that have been stored over many yearsRecent memory – which means the formation of new memories
AttentionSimple or focused attention – for example, watching a TV show until the endSplit attention – for example, trying to pay attention to a TV show and talk on the telephone at the same time
LanguageVerbal abilities, including vocabularyWord recall – which means it’s harder to think of the word one needs when in conversation or trying to name a person or object
Reasoning & problem solvingKnown or traditional solutioning – which means solving new problems in a learned and seemingly natural way or solving previously experienced problemsSolutioning for new experiences or through new methods – which means solving known problems with new methods or solving previously unexperienced problems
Speed of mental processingActivity performance – which means how use our cognitive and motor functions to achieve tasks, goals, projects, etc...

Factors that influence a normal aging mind

The above table reflects average changes to cognitive abilities to be expected over time. Here we note other influential factors to be considered when questioning how a mind is aging.

  • Medications can produce side effects, such as drowsiness and mental dullness.
  • Sensory changes can interfere with the processing of information (for example, hearing loss that affects whether or not someone’s name is heard when introduced).
  • Health-related changes, such as arthritis or general pain, that affect the above mentioned cognitive functions.
  • Changes in mood, such as depression or anxiety, that alter one’s motivation to learn new information or apply active strategies.

Ways to slow down the mental aging process

While we cannot stop the aging process, we can try to slow the aging process of our minds and sharpen our cognitive abilities as we age. Some of the way we can improve our positively influence our mental functions are listed below.

  • Reduce stress – Researchers have found that high stress levels impair learning and memory in both animals and humans. Strategies to reduce stress such as exercise may be beneficial.
  • Maintain good health – Regular visits to the doctor are critical to make sure that medical conditions which can themselves impair thinking are under good control. In addition, possible interactions among medications should be evaluated by letting your physician know all of the medications you are taking, even if not prescribed by that particular doctor. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables containing antioxidants such as blueberries, strawberries, and broccoli as well as certain fats such as olive oil may be neuroprotective.
  • Keep mentally stimulated – Studies have found that engaging in challenging cognitive tasks can protect against age-related declines in thinking and the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. It is important to keep oneself stimulated through activities such as playing bridge, reading, and attending adult education courses.
  • Use active strategies – There is evidence that some of the difficulties in storing new memories are due to the fact that older persons do not spontaneously use strategies to encode this information. When they do, age differences are weakened. In addition, older adults demonstrate good recognition of new information when they are helped with cues to jog their memory. Strategies that can be helpful to facilitate memory include following a routine (e.g., always putting one’s keys in the same place), using external techniques (e.g., a calendar, a pill box), and taking more time to actively process new information (e.g., when introduced to someone, pay extra attention and try to come up with an association to recall that person’s name).

Learn More About…

Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI)

Read About MCI

Alzheimer’s Disease (Alzheimer’s)

Read About Alzheimer’s