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Changing Cognition

In this guide:

As people age, it is common to experience changes in cognition, which can affect memory, attention, and other cognitive abilities.

Below is an explanation of what happens as cognition changes and what to do if you notice a change in cognition in yourself or someone you care for


Impact of changing cognition in elderly individuals

The normal aging process brings subtle changes in cognitive abilities, some of these changes may include:

Slower processing speed: As we age, our brains may take longer to process information, which can lead to slower response times.

Decreased working memory: Working memory, which is the ability to hold and manipulate information in our minds, may decline with age.

Reduced attention: Elderly individuals may have difficulty focusing their attention and may be more easily distracted.

Decreased spatial awareness: Spatial awareness, which is the ability to perceive and understand spatial relationships, may decline with age.

Memory problems: Memory problems are a common complaint among elderly individuals, particularly with regard to episodic memory, which is the ability to recall specific events or experiences.

Language difficulties: Elderly individuals may have difficulty with word retrieval, processing and expressing language, and understanding complex sentences.

Examples of Cognitive Decline

Everyone who experiences cognitive decline will have individual symptoms, however some day-to-day examples may be:

  • Forgetting to eat or take prescribed medication correctly
  • Forgetting to shower or change clothes regularly
  • Lacking awareness of potential hazards, such as leaving stoves and heaters on
  • Showing poor judgement about who they let into the house and who they trust
  • Forgetting to feed or care for pets
  • Forgetting recent conversations and events
  • Becoming more impulsive and losing the ability to organise tasks
  • Difficulty performing familiar tasks – such as meal preparation
  • Finding their way to a familiar place or feeling confused about where they are
Speak with your GP if you’re concerned about changes in behaviour or comprehension.

Steps to Take

It is important to note that while some cognitive changes are a normal part of the aging process, significant declines in cognitive function can be a sign of underlying health conditions or cognitive disorders.

If you, someone you care for or a loved one is experiencing significant changes in cognition, it is important to talk to your GP or primary healthcare provider  for an evaluation.

Change in Needs

It is normal for the care needs of aging adults to change. If you or someone you care for has noticed a change in their cognition or received a diagnosis it’s important we are made aware so that care needs can be adjusted accordingly

This may involve a change to the support plan and what services are received or applying for a higher level of care. In some instances, it may be that self-management may no longer be appropriate depending on the circumstances.

More Resources

Dementia Australia has a large range of resources for both patients and carers – you can find out more by visiting their website.

My Aged Care also provide information when caring for someone with dementia.

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