Cognitive Disorders and Geriatric Neurology

As a branch of medicine, geriatrics is concerned with diagnosing and treating illnesses that occur in adults, generally over age 60. A subset of this, geriatric neurology focuses on neurologic disorders common to this age group.

Correct diagnosis of neurologic disorders in older adults can be difficult because signs of disease may mimic normal signs of aging. Also patients frequently have more than one neurologic problem at once. It can be challenging to find the best treatment once such a problem has been diagnosed.

Common Geriatric Neurology Problems

In addition to memory loss and dementia, as mentioned earlier, many neurologic disorders--weakness, numbness, poor balance, stroke, Parkinson's disease, and seizures--become more common with age. Often, more than one neurologic disorder are present at the same time.

Memory and Aging

As many people get older, they complain of memory loss. Slight memory loss from normal aging should not interfere with daily activities. However, forgetting appointments, being unable to find your way in familiar areas, having difficulty with cooking or reading--these are all possible signs of more severe memory loss which needs to be investigated.

Causes of Memory Disorders

The causes of memory loss range from treatable conditions such as depression, vitamin B12 deficiency, medications and sleep disorders to more severe dementia. Dementia is the medical term used to describe patients with memory loss severe enough to interfere with daily activities. There are many causes of dementia, including Alzheimer's disease, which is the most common cause.

The causes of memory loss and dementia should be identified early, since many can be reversed or improved if treated. Although there is no cure for Alzheimer's disease, there are treatments to improve the symptoms and situation of Alzheimer's patients and their families. For example, medications can improve memory loss and treat the psychiatric symptoms that may accompany this disease. Additionally, patients and families also benefit from an accurate diagnosis, which allows them to get community support and plan for the future.

Evaluation of Memory Disorders

Anyone who experiences memory loss or dementia should have a complete medical history and examination, including testing of memory and cognition. Blood tests, and in some patients, a brain imaging study such as a computer assisted tomography (CAT) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan, can screen for treatable causes of memory loss.

Warning Signs of Dementia and Neurologic Disorders

  • Misplacing things repeatedly

  • Difficulty performing familiar tasks

  • Disorientation of time and place; getting lost near home

  • Poor or weaker judgment

  • Personality changes; becoming irritable, fearful, suspicious, inappropriate

  • Sudden weakness, numbness or vision loss

  • Tremor, shakiness

  • Difficulty walking because of shuffling steps or poor balance

  • Loss of awareness or convulsions

Services of the Clinic

  • Memory disorders and dementia

  • Gait disorders

  • Neurodegenerative diseases

  • Neurologic problems in older adults

In selected patients, the clinic can coordinate more formal testing of cognition with neuropsychological tests, genetic counseling for families with inherited disorders, referral to community services, area agencies and support groups, and potential participation in research projects related to geriatric neurology.

Alzheimer's Disease Links

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