The Aging Brain: What are Common Brain Disorders and How to Address Them

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With aging comes the wear and tear of the body, including its control center which is the brain. Although it may not be as common in conversation compared to heart problems or cancer, brain disorders due to old age can also be a debilitating, or even a life-threatening problems with our seniors.

The status quo of brain disorders in the elderly

Chances are, you might have known someone who is suffering from brain disorders due to old age. The probability of having neurological problems increases as people age, and this is partly due to genetics, lifestyle choices, and decreased function over time.

Now, here are some statistics you should know about brain disorders and the elderly:

  • 1 in 10 elderly in America suffer from Alzheimer’s disease.
  • One of the most common neurological problems of aging is dementia.
  • Depression and mood disorders are also common for the elderly, with 10.5% having been diagnosed at some point in their lives.
  • People who suffer from stroke also develop neurological problems, with 25% having a mild disability and 40% have moderate to severe disabilities.

Although mortality rates have declined since the early 2000s, early diagnosis and treatment are key for these neurological disorders. Although most of them cannot be cured completely, there are still ways to address the problem with proper maintenance to improve the quality of life.

What are some of the common neurological disorders in senior adults?

Neuropathy

Neuropathy is a condition characterized by weakened sensation, unusual symptoms, or loss of function due to damaged nerves in certain areas of the body. Nerve damage is usually caused by other conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, trauma, alcoholism or nutrient deficiencies.

Some of the signs of neuropathy include:

  • Tingling sensation in the hands and feet
  • Lack or loss of range of motion
  • Numbness
  • Lack of coordination
  • Pain
  • Paralysis

There are different types of neuropathy, but the most common ones seen in the elderly are peripheral neuropathy. This is initially noticed with the symptoms noted above.

Upon diagnosis, some of the treatment used for neuropathy include:

  • Medications to regulate blood sugar (if diabetes is linked to neuropathy)
  • NSAIDs for pain
  • Other medications to monitor organ function
  • Physical therapy

Alzheimer’s disease

Alzheimer is a type of dementia that is characterized by problems with thinking, behavior and memory. Alzheimer’s is commonly seen as a progressive disorder, which symptoms are seen to worsen over time.

There are many causes related to Alzheimer’s, but the biggest factor is aging. Although it is not a normal part of the aging process, many seniors suffer from this neurological disorder due to lifestyle choices and genetics. According to Sunshine Behavioral Health, a known rehabilitation facility, there are studies that also support the link between alcoholism and dementia.

Sommon common signs of Alzheimer’s include:

  • Memory loss that negatively affects daily functioning
  • Difficulties in problem solving and decision-making
  • Challenges in completing usual routines
  • Confusion
  • Speech and communication problems
  • Social withdrawal
  • Changes in mood

At present, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s. There are treatments to slow down the symptoms or to improve the ability to function, such as:

  • Medications to reduce symptoms (galantamine, rivastigmine, and donepezil)
  • Medications to improve behavior (citalopram, mirtazapine, sertraline)
  • Sleep aids
  • Anticonvulsants
  • Speech, Physical and Occupational therapy to help in maintaining daily function, mobility and communication

Amyotropic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) is a disorder that is described as a progressive affectation of the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. The nerve cells are located in the person’s lateral spinal cord. This area as well as certain portions of the nerve cells in the brain eventually degenerates, causing loss of muscle function. Sclerosis is defined as the scarring of these particular regions.

Some of the telltale signs of ALS include:

  • Difficulty walking
  • Weakness in the legs or arms
  • Slurred speech
  • Difficulties in eating and swallowing
  • Postural problems

An in-depth brain scan is needed to determine if an elderly is suffering from ALS. Although there is no cure, some treatments are done to lessen or slow down ALS symptoms:

  • Medications (riluzole and edaravone) for slowing down the progression of ALS
  • Medications of muscle spasms, pain, constipation, depression, salivation, or other co-occurring problems
  • Therapies to improve breathing, daily function, mobility, and communication
  • Mechanical ventilation
  • Nutritional and psychological support

Stroke

Stroke is one of the common conditions that bring neurological disorders to the elderly. It is characterized by a disruption of blood circulation in the brain caused by bleeding, blocked arteries, and other related infarcts. The symptoms of stroke will depend on which part of the brain circulation becomes disrupted.

Stroke is associated with many conditions, most of which are diseases that were acquired early on by the elderly. This includes hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, or brain trauma. In other instances, stroke may be caused by environmental factors such as heat and stress, which are combined with the aging brain.

It is crucial to detect the early signs of stroke, as this could determine the potential severity of the disorder as well as chances of survival. Symptoms to take note of include:

  • Numbness or weakness of limbs or face
  • Speech difficulty or cohesion problems
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Pain in one side of the chest
  • Blurry vision or loss of vision

If these symptoms appear, it is best to call emergency services or dial 911.

Stroke is commonly addressed as an emergency in the initial stages. At this point, the doctor may prescribe:

  • Intravenous injections to reduce blockage and removal of blood clots
  • Use of a stent retriever to reduce pressure and blood clots
  • Surgical operations (endarterectomy and angioplasty)
  • Surgical removal or clipping when aneurysm is present

The patient will be given some time to recover after the emergency treatments. After this, rehabilitative procedures will be done. This includes services from:

  • Therapies (speech, physical and occupational)
  • Nurse for hygiene care and other health maintenance concerns
  • Dietitician (when a change of diet is necessary)
  • Psychiatrist (for personality or mood changes)
  • Neurologist (for regular checkups and preventative maintenance)

Stay informed, stay healthy

No one is spared from an aging brain, but there are ways to stay healthy–and one of which is being informed with common symptoms and treatment procedures

If you or a loved one notice symptoms of these common brain disorders, make sure to contact health professionals right away. Early detection and treatment can help improve one’s quality of life.