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Recall and Reaction in Aging

In addition to slower processing speeds, normal cognitive decline in seniors may show up in recall and reaction speed. Information seems to linger on the tip of your parent's tongue. The senior may know the answer to a question but cannot quite pull it out of his mental filing cabinet. Reaction time may be slowed.

This may have implications for performance on some activities that require quick decisions or changes in attention. One such activity is driving. The age-related cognitive decline should be mild and shouldn't interfere with day to day functioning.

Normal aging also may bring decline in vision and hearing abilities. A senior who has difficulty with seeing or hearing may also have resulting difficulty in learning information. This may appear as cognitive decline when it is in fact not. Whenever possible, the use of hearing aids or glasses should remedy these difficulties.

Mild Cognitive Impairment

Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is progressive memory loss or processing that generally happens after age 50 and is beyond what is expected with normal age-related cognitive decline.

However, MCI does not meet the list of criteria needed for a specific dementia diagnosis. A senior who has mild cognitive impairment may show signs of memory deficits that are more than expected for her age or education level while other cognitive functioning remains normal.

Also, generally, activities of daily living are completed independently and in normal fashion. Sometimes MCI is a term used in the medical field when no specific dementia diagnosis has been rendered, but symptoms have become much more distinctly obvious to family members.

Listening and Dementia

Do you remember a time when you were trained to practice "active" listening rather than "passive" listening? Active listening is not only beneficial in the professional work environment, but also plays an important role in communicating with those with dementia.

Listening begins with silence. Focus on what they are telling you and do not interrupt. Paraphrasing or repeating back what the person has said to you, even if it doesn't make sense, shows that you have heard what they are telling you. The goal is to show that you care and respect what they have to say.

It also may help you to understand their point of reference. It is common to feel the need to argue or to provide correction when what is said does not make sense. People with dementia often get facts wrong or remember events incorrectly. It is okay.

There is no reason to insist upon being right. Step in to the other person's world and honor their memory no matter if it is their own creation. Who knows, maybe their version is more interesting!