Visiting For The Holidays: Spotting The Early Signs Of Cognitive Decline
cognitive decline vs natural aging during holidays

Home for the Holidays

How to Determine a Cognitive Decline When Visiting Mom and Dad

The holiday season is here, and with many of us taking the necessary safety measures against COVID-19, we’ve looked forward to spreading holiday cheer and spending time with our families. For those of us whose parents are senior citizens, the pandemic may have made visits with mom and dad few and far between. Because of this, we were even more excited to see our parents and make up for lost time. 

But what if, when you arrived at mom and dad’s, you noticed that things seemed different? Maybe mom forgot how to make the cranberry sauce she’s been making at Christmas for the past 20 years. Maybe dad had difficulty keeping the names of his grandchildren straight. You’ve noticed that your parent isn’t as sharp as they used to be. How do you determine what is just natural aging and what might indicate a cognitive decline that needs your attention? 

What signs are you noticing?

Before you assume the worst, take into consideration what behaviors you witnessed when interacting with mom or dad. Try to be mindful of how they completed tasks and projects (cooking, wrapping presents, etc.), and write down anything and everything that you think is worth questioning. By using this method, you won’t feel as overwhelmed when you begin exploring what the changes you’re noticing may mean.

Cognitive Decline vs. Natural Aging – what qualifies for each?

You’ll want to make sure that you have a good understanding of natural aging versus cognitive decline before you begin digging into your list of observations. This is where a trained professional can offer you valuable assistance. At Wesley Glen, our associates are always happy to chat with you over the phone so we can better understand your situation and help you determine what support, if any, may be needed for your loved one. At a high level, natural aging and cognitive decline have some distinct differences.

Natural Aging

Just as our bodies change physically as we age – sunspots, wrinkles, stiff joints – so do our minds. As we get older, our minds experience a decrease in the areas responsible for memory, our brain cells don’t connect as well as they did when we were younger, and increases in inflammation are common. All of these are natural. Normal age-related brain changes usually express themselves as:

  • Slower thinking time
  • Trouble paying attention
  • Difficulty multitasking
  • Difficulty remembering names
  • Trouble retaining new information

That said, not every aspect of natural aging comes with negative effects. Reading skills, vocabulary, and creativity can all stay the same or improve as we grow older. Now, how does this compare to and differ from more serious cognitive changes?

Cognitive Decline

A serious cognitive decline is starkly different from natural aging. It’s important to compare these changes with those of simply growing older to see just how much of a difference there is. To do so, we’re going to compare the natural aging situations we mentioned above to how similar situations look like when someone is experiencing serious cognitive decline.


  • Slower thinking time – Difficulty thinking at all
  • Trouble paying attention – Inability to pay attention for more than a short period
  • Difficulty multitasking – Inability to multitask or comprehend small tasks
  • Difficulty remembering names – Difficulty remembering who people are
  • Trouble retaining new information – Inability to comprehend new information

As you can see, cognitive decline differs drastically from the normal aging process. By being mindful and making a list of the situations you observe, you’ll be better able to analyze under which category each situation falls. 

What options are available? 

There are a variety of options available to support you and your loved ones through the changes that come with normal aging or a more serious mental decline that needs immediate attention. The best course of action is to focus on surrounding yourself with opportunities and professionals trained to guide older adults through the unpredictability that comes with aging. 

Many senior centers offer mentally stimulating classes and workshops to keep seniors in their communities engaged and fulfilled. To focus on keeping cognition as strong as possible, talk to your loved one about attending opportunities like these. The social component is a plus, too. 

Explore senior living options. It is never too early to begin planning for the future. Retirement communities in Columbus, Ohio offer choices for older adults that allow them to remain independent while having access to the necessary support. And at continuing care retirement communities like Wesley Glen, as cognition declines, professional support services increase. CCRCs offer multiple levels of care, so you can rest assured that mom and dad will have the quality mental care they deserve.  

Get support for aging adults at Wesley Glen 

At Wesley Glen, we are always available to speak with you and your loved ones to discuss support options. We would be more than happy to have an in-depth conversation with you about your unique situation, your options, and all we have to offer. Get in touch with us today.