Mental Decline of Joe Biden

It happens from time to time: You start telling a story, only to lose your train of thought halfway through. Or you walk into a room and cannot remember what you went in there to do. Or the harder you try to remember the name of that kitchen utensil you need to buy, the further its name slips away.  Mental glitches like these happen to everyone and are understandably freaky but aren’t necessarily a sign of cognitive decline. “The feeling of your brain short-circuiting is often more likely due to psychological processes,” says Sarah Garcia-Beaumier, Ph.D., a licensed neuropsychologist and associate professor at Stetson University in Florida. Increases in stress, distractions, multitasking, anxiety or depression (all of which have skyrocketed in the last year) can be big contributors. “A common consideration we have to make clinically is whether cognitive symptoms are due to early dementia, or rather due to a depressive or anxiety disorder,” Garcia-Beaumier says. “This trend has only increased during the pandemic.”

The Difference Between Cognitive Lapses and Cognitive Decline

Cognitive decline is typically a neurodegenerative process where you exhibit a worsening of performance in one or more areas, such as memory, attention or language. We typically begin showing cognitive aging in our 30s, and some people exhibit more cognitive decline than others their age. Signs often include what we normally experience day to day—forgetting to call someone or losing the word you wanted to say. When those symptoms appear much more than they did previously, so much so that others are starting to notice, “that’s typically an early red flag for cognitive decline beyond what we expect for the normal aging process,” says Garcia-Beaumier. Normal aging will slow down retrieval of memory, for example, and most individuals will have some difficulty remembering names of people, items or places—but these bits of memory come back in 10 to 15 minutes, or sometimes hours later. “These minor glitches in memory aren’t a sign of evolving dementia or cognitive impairment,” says Thomas Hammond, M.D., a neurologist with Baptist Health’s Marcus Neuroscience Institute in Boca Raton, Florida. “Forgetting conversations or important appointments, or feeling lost in familiar places, are more worrisome and concerning for significant early cognitive impairment.” This doesn’t automatically mean you’ll end up with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, though. “In fact, some people who meet the criteria for what we call mild cognitive impairment actually resolve or stabilize, without further decline,” says Garcia-Beaumier. But if your lapses are related to psychological distress—or another underlying health issue—and you allow the stress to go on, she adds, that can put you at a higher risk of dementia. Here are sneaky signs of cognitive decline to watch out for so you can start turning things around posthaste.