Cognitive Decline: Who is at Risk?

As we age, we may begin to notice a shift in how we (or someone we care about) goes about daily activities. Sometimes we can’t remember what we needed to buy at the grocery store or what time an appointment was scheduled for. For an extent, this is relatively normal.

Cognitive decline typically affects people 60 years of age and older, however, it can also impact others at earlier ages. Subjective cognitive decline as defined by the CDC (Center for disease control, 2019) consists of symptoms of cognitive decline that many people report experiencing.1

  • Among adults 45 or older, 1 in 9 have reported symptoms of subjective cognitive decline.
  • Roughly 10% of adults 65 or older have noted subjective cognitive decline.
  • Subjective cognitive decline occurs rather equally between people who identify as men and women
  • Adults who have received higher education have a lower incidence of cognitive decline.
  • Racial disparities have been noted as 12.8% of Black/African Americans, 11% of Hispanics, 10.9% of Caucasians, and 6.7% of Asians/Pacific Islanders have reported symptoms of subjective cognitive decline.2

Symptoms of cognitive decline can manifest in various ways. There is no one size fits all for people who experience these symptoms. Here are a few common signs to look out for:

  • Making large mistakes at work
  • Forgetting events, appointments, conversations, dates
  • Having difficulties remembering to take medications
  • Forgetting to pay bills or even paying a bill twice
  • Difficulty understanding instructions/directions
  • Difficulty with routine/daily activities or tasks
  • Increased impulsivity
  • Frequently becoming lost or having a hard time with directions
  • Becoming frustrated/overwhelmed easily by decision making

Risk Factors for Cognitive Decline: There are numerous risk factors that can make someone more susceptible to cognitive decline as they age. Some of these may be predisposed conditions while others may consist of daily life habits.

Lifestyle Risk Factors:

  • Limited exercise/physical activity
  • Restricted social interactions
  • Poor diet of fatty or processed foods
  • Smoking tobacco
  • Excessive alcohol consumption

A positive note regarding lifestyle risk factors is that they are in your control. Even if you are not involved in a structured exercise routine, studies have shown that mild activity such as walking 20 minutes several days a week can decrease the likelihood of developing cognitive deficits. Making other small changes in other areas of your life can also decrease your risk of cognitive decline.

Health Related Risk Factors:

  • Elevated cholesterol
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Mid-life obesity3

If you have a hereditary background or history of some of these risk factors, it may make sense for you to speak to your doctor about your concerns.