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Cognitive functioning and aging in women

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Deficits in cognitive function may impact one’s ability to attend to stimuli, think clearly, reason, and remember. Impaired cognitive function is a common complaint among older women presenting for treatment in both mental health and medical care settings, and differential diagnosis of type and extent of cognitive impairment is important for appropriate treatment planning and prognosis.

Although overall gender differences in prevalence of cognitive dysfunction are minimal, it is important when treating older women to take into account unique challenges they face in the aging process that impact the cause, type and extent of cognitive complaints with which they present in clinical settings.

The current paper provides an overview to guide accurate diagnosis, particularly in women, of different types of cognitive impairment under the broad category of dementias, including Alzheimer’s, Lewy Body Disease, Vascular Dementia, and due to general medical conditions such as coronary artery bypass surgery, head injury, menopause, hypothyroidism, breast cancer treatment, Fibromyalgia, and Chronic Fatigue.

In addition, emotional factors such as depression in older female patients complicate differential diagnosis of cognitive impairment and must be addressed. Given the multiplicity of causes of cognitive difficulties for women across the life span, careful assessment is crucial; the current paper reviews assessment strategies to prepare an integrated, biopsychosocial strategy for identifying particular cognitive deficits and related psychological and medical problems.

In addition, prognostic indicators and treatment planning are discussed to help the practitioner organize an empathic, reasoned and multifaceted treatment approach to maximize recovery, minimize deterioration, and manage symptoms for older women in the context of their social support system and living environment.

Source: Journal of Women and Aging. 2007;19(1-2):13-30. PMID: 17588877, by Badgio PC, Worden BL. [E-mail: pbadgio@msn.com ]

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