Aging is a natural process that correlates with certain physical, social, behavioral, and psychological changes. However, it can be challenging to differentiate between the normal processes linked to aging and pathological ones. Thus, certain behaviors that are not usually common in pathological aging may be interpreted as regular, leading to further cognitive and behavioral shifts that may have been addressed or managed if the correct diagnosis was known. One of the main differences is the progression of the changes. As suggested by researchers, normal aging is not linked to a rapid and sudden cognitive decline similar to a pathological one (Jurado, 2018). Thus, seniors with age-related health conditions such as dementia, Alzheimer’s, or prolonged alcohol or drugs are more likely to suddenly be incapable of concentrating, recalling memories, and learning new information. On the other hand, normal aging is not accompanied by such severe and fast declines in one’s typical behavior, and the changes are more linear (Salthouse, 2019). Thus, while they are present, behavioral changes are harder to pinpoint and detect since they occur gradually.
Another sign of pathological aging that is unique is aggression and violent outbursts. Based on current literature on the topic, these are primarily symptoms of dementia, which is not precisely a portrayal of normal aging (Davies et al., 2018). As mentioned prior, such symptoms are not gradual but rather critically different from the person’s prior personality and behavioral tendencies. Another symptom that is often mistakenly considered to be standard in seniors is isolation. However, studies show that such tendencies are often linked to age-related conditions. Thus, social withdrawal is correlated with neuropathology and is often the case for older individuals with health issues (Kosel et al., 2020). On the other hand, the same symptom can be attributed to the results of social changes. According to researchers, seniors primarily report isolation, and the rate increases as a person ages (Hämmig, 2019). Thus, the outcome may be caused by the overall overview of older people in society that causes them to feel like they do not belong. A recent study has referred to the media as portraying older people as unable to contribute to society (Ayalon et al., 2020). As a result, societal attitudes may be why behavioral changes occur regarding isolation and withdrawal.
The saying “Use it or lose it” is truthful in terms of maintaining physical and psychological health while aging. For example, some risk factors correlating with dementia include a lack of physical activities and mental exercise, while their presence shows a decrease in the rate of people with this condition (Lin et al., 2019). Thus, an active lifestyle, both from a physical and mental standpoint, is essential in ensuring a lower chance of pathological aging. In this case, “use it or lose it” is a direct aim to maintain some cognitive functions that may deteriorate with age.
The primary evidence that needs to be evaluated to differentiate between normal and pathological aging is the progression of behavioral changes. If the person has gradually been showing signs of cognitive changes, there are fewer reasons to suspect conditions other than natural shifts in one’s physiology. On the other hand, if the person has changed suddenly, shows signs of aggression that was not present before, and rapidly loses cognitive functions, the signs may suggest pathological issues that are to be examined further.
Ayalon, L., Chasteen, A., Diehl, M., Levy, B. R., Neupert, S. D., Rothermund, K., Tesch-Römer, C., & Wahl, H.-W. (2020). Aging in times of the COVID-19 pandemic: Avoiding ageism and Fostering Intergenerational Solidarity. The Journals of Gerontology: Series B, 76(2). Web.
Davies, S. J. C., Burhan, A. M., Kim, D., Gerretsen, P., Graff-Guerrero, A., Woo, V. L., Kumar, S., Colman, S., Pollock, B. G., Mulsant, B. H., & Rajji, T. K. (2018). Sequential drug treatment algorithm for agitation and aggression in Alzheimer’s and mixed dementia. Journal of Psychopharmacology, 32(5), 509–523. Web.
Hämmig, O. (2019). Correction: Health risks associated with social isolation in general and in young, middle and old age. PLOS ONE, 14(8). Web.
Jurado, S. (2018). AMPA receptor trafficking in natural and pathological aging. Frontiers in Molecular Neuroscience, 10. Web.
Kosel, F., Pelley, J. M. S., & Franklin, T. B. (2020). Behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia in mouse models of Alzheimer’s disease-related pathology. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 112, 634–647. Web.
Lin, S., Yang, Y., Qi, Q., Wei, L., Jing, N., Jie, Z., Xia, L., & Shifu, X. (2019). The beneficial effect of physical exercise on cognitive function in a non-dementia aging Chinese population. Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, 11. Web.
Salthouse, T. A. (2019). Trajectories of normal cognitive aging. Psychology and Aging, 34(1), 17–24. Web.