We carry out numerous cognitive tasks naturally without being conscious of the mental effort required. Such activities can range from merely remembering names, noticing colors to thinking or dreaming. So we can say that our mental functions are a composition of different types of cognitive skills.
A human being goes through many changes regarding mental abilities. First, these abilities change when a human being matures, and then change again when the brain cells in the brain age. When people grow older, their ability to see, hear, and speak may slow down. Some considerable changes in the mental health and cognitive abilities of the elderly are:
DIFFICULTY IN REMEMBERING
As a person ages, their body and mind go through drastic changes. In such cases, older people may face difficulties in remembering. Aging causes areas in the brain like the hippocampus to shrink. This shrinking can cause the neurons to communicate slowly. So the neurons that enabled a person to speak won’t function as well as it did before. Such changes in the brain can cause difficulties in encoding new information into your memory. People going through such changes also face problems in remembering the information already stored in their minds.
These changes also put the elderly at risk for brain diseases, affecting a person’s brain structure and brain function. Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia compromise the cognitive abilities of a person. In such cases, the affected personnel requires a caretaker. Many old nursing homes help the elderly suffering from these diseases. People who can afford it hire nurses. Several nursing organizations have efficient FAAN nursing facilities that offer caretaking options for the elderly. Many geriatric nurses and gerontological nurses are part of these organizations.
DIFFICULTY IN ATTENTION
Age also inhibits a person’s attention span. An aging person will face multitasking problems, and they will face difficulty switching from one task to the other. The cognitive function that allows them to process their surrounding information and divide their focus slows down. For example, the elderly may face difficulties in driving. It will be difficult for them to change lanes and keep track of vehicles or pedestrians from other directions.
DELAY IN INFORMATION PROCESSING SKILLS
The vital skills to store and process multiple bits of information decline in the elderly. Scientific studies state that the mind’s flexibility stems from the ability to function between integrating and segregating varying cognitive processes. As humans age, this ability to integrate and segregate starts declining. Similarly, vision loss and hearing impairments can have a significant impact on how a person processes information. Suppose the stimulus is challenging for the elderly to detect because of their impairments. In that case, their information processing skills will automatically slow down. The working memory decline makes it harder for them to retain quick information in their brain and process it.
DECLINE IN FLUID INTELLIGENCE
The fluid intelligence of a person is their ability to solve problems that involve reasoning. These abilities are related to other vital skills. Such skills include the skill to comprehend, solve problems, and learn—our fluid intelligence changes throughout our life. Though, research proves that fluid intelligence begins to decline after the ages of 30-40 years old. It means that the elderly are less likely to process a problem, comprehend its characteristics, and solve it.
Language is one of the more stable cognitive skills. But studies show that older people can often face difficulty in language production. These difficulties stem from their inability to recall the right terms and the decline in retaining new information in memory. Old age also increases the chances of a slip of the tongue and increased pauses when the elderly talk. It is a result of the eventual slow-down in cognitive processes.
INCREASE IN CRYSTALLIZED INTELLIGENCE
Crystallized intelligence is the knowledge a person gains because of their experience and studies. It refers to knowledge that pre-exists and includes facts and information. We utilize this form of intelligence when we have to recall pre-acquired knowledge. Given that this ability relies heavily on the collection and build-up of knowledge, it increases with age. It only makes sense that the elderly have more crystallized knowledge, building upon years of experience and education. Studies show that researchers have witnessed a peak in this form of intelligence in people in their 60s and 70s.
INCREASE IN VOCABULARY
The vocabulary increase builds on the crystallized intelligence theory. Vocabulary is crystallized as previously acquired knowledge, and age allows more worldly exposure. This exposure increases the vocabulary of an older person. While vocabulary increase is definitive, the ability to recall the vocabulary takes a hit in old age. Due to the inability to recall information stored in their brain, the elderly may face problems in their language expression. But if you give them more time, they will be able to recall, unless they don’t face a brain disease like Alzheimer’s.
BETTER RELATIONSHIP DETECTION
With the aging process, the branching of dendrites in the brain increase. It makes the links between distant brain areas even more robust. Such changes enable the elderly to detect the relationship between various informational inputs, allowing them to paint a bigger picture. Perhaps this is where the notion of wisdom with age began. Aging makes people good at noticing the bigger picture and bad at noticing small details.
Aging brings along many changes in the brain and cognitive skills of a human being. Some skills decline, and some skills increase with their age. But the fact remains that the declining cognitive skills hinder their ability to carry on a normal lifestyle. Hence, old age renders people helpless in many ways, and they need the help of their family and caretakers. So if a person can afford it, hiring a senior nurse who is empathetic and caring can help the elderly live a comfortable life. If not, then the family should take responsibility and care for their elders. After all, changes are hard to face, and the support of loved ones is all a person needs in these times.