Some gaffes by Biden and Trump may be signs of normal aging

Why do we need more tests of cognitive abilities as we age? Sharon Sha, an expert on dementia, and Donald Trump’s test “The Montreal Cognitive Assessment”

“As you get older, you have more experience, more control [over] your emotions,” Tan says. So it’s important to not only look at a candidate’s cognitive abilities, he says, but also “their wisdom and the principles that they live by.”

Donald Trump claimed during his presidency that he had taken a test called the Montreal Cognitive Assessment. Sha says that the 10-minute screening test is to find major deficits, and not an in-depth look at cognitive function.

It’s also critical to measure a person’s current cognitive performance against their performance earlier in life, Sha says. A retired professor, for example, may do well on cognitive tests despite a significant mental decline.

Tan says a thorough history of someone’s life and an hour of testing are required for the diagnosis of those conditions.

Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia are becoming more common over time. An estimated 40% of people between 80 and 85 have either dementia, which makes independent living difficult, or what’s known as mild cognitive impairment.

“As we get older it is very common for us to be unable to recall names,” says Sharon Sha, a professor of neurology.

A healthy brain typically retains its ability to learn and store information. Many older people have less of a brain’s ability to quickly retrieve information.

A typical person in their 20s might be able to reliably hold seven digits in working memory, Sha says. “As we age, that might be reduced to just six digits, but not zero.”

How fast can you do things? An exercise physiotherapist’s perspective on the effect of the brain on executive-level jobs with more support and time

That may be a problem for a race car driver or an airline pilot, Tan says. But it’s less likely to make a difference to someone who is doing “an executive-level job, where there is a lot of support and a lot more time to do planning and decision making.”

One reason for the decline is a decrease in the speed at which the brain processes information. Slower processing means a person may take longer to respond to a question or make a decision.

“We have all had those,” says Zaldy Tan who is the memory and healthy aging program head at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. “It’s just that we are not public figures and therefore this is not as noticeable or blown up.”

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