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What is “Executive Function” in Memory for Seniors?


It’s no secret that many seniors struggle with memory loss. The Institute for Dementia Research & Prevention estimates that 1 in 6 women and 1 in 10 men who are over the age of 55 will develop some type of dementia during their lifetime. Of these cases of dementia, almost 70% are the result of Alzheimer’s disease. Memory impairment, much like the deterioration of physical health that many seniors experience, manifests itself in a range of different ways. Dementia impairs various areas of memory and cognition, including executive function in some cases. Home alert systems can help keep seniors safe, even with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.

Executive Function Impairment: What to Expect

Some of the signs and symptoms of aging are easy to quantify, define, and observe. Muscle mass and bone density, for example, can be easily measured. Even some cognitive impairments are easier to identify than others, with short- and long-term memory tasks designed to assess for impairment. Unlike tasks like counting, reciting the alphabet, or drawing a triangle, executive function involves synthesizing information and using it to make an appropriate decision. When critical thinking and decision making are impaired by dementia, home alert systems can be play an integral role in keeping a senior safe.

If we think of the brain as a machine, executive function would be the control panel. Because the role of executive function in memory is so complex and high level, any impairment typically manifests in the form of multiple difficulties, rather than a single symptom. Some signs of executive function impairment include:

  • Socially inappropriate behavior. With decreased inhibitions and a lack of awareness of social norms, seniors may start to behave in ways that are socially inappropriate and could even put them in danger. This could include verbal outbursts and sudden, impulsive decisions.
  • Difficulty “tracking” a conversation. Impaired executive function impacts multiple areas of cognition, including short term memory, verbal skills, and symbolic thinking (the ability to connect abstract concepts to the real world). All of these areas contribute to one’s ability to follow along and engage meaningfully in conversations.
  • Sudden changes in emotion. Seniors may become moody or prone to sudden fluctuations in emotion. They may exhibit antisocial tendencies and become easily upset.
  • Trouble planning for the future. Impaired executive functioning makes it difficult to process information and use it to make appropriate decisions for the future. The connection between actions and consequences may be difficult to access.

Home Alert Systems to Keep Seniors Safe

Seniors are a vulnerable population in many ways, and home alert systems, including wearable medical alerts, can help older adults to stay safe in the face of both physical and cognitive impairment. These devices, typically in the form of a bracelet or pendant, are connected via landline or cellular network to a control center. By pressing a button, the senior can easily speak to an operator, simplifying the process of getting help in an emergency to one simple step. Some devices are also equipped with GPS locators that can alert a caregiver should a senior wander. Our reviews page provides an overview of the features offered by different home alert systems.

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