Glossary for Aging Brain Center at the Institute for Aging Research

Glossary of Terms for the Aging Brain Center

Cognitive reserve is the ability of the brain to compensate for neuropathological damage.  A person with high cognitive reserve will show fewer symptoms or recover faster from brain damage or disease.  Cognitive reserve can help explain why some people are more affected by dementia and delirium.  Although the factors that contribute to cognitive reserve are not yet clearly understood, it is believed that some of the factors that affect cognitive reserve include educational level, physical activity, head circumference, and social support.

The Confusion Assessment Method (CAM) is the most widely used instrument for the detection of delirium.  It was designed and validated by Dr. Sharon Inouye.  For more information about the CAM click here.

Delirium is a sudden disturbance in thinking or attention that commonly occurs in hospitalized patients.  Although delirium can have long-term effects, it is a temporary condition.  In contrast, long-term cognitive decline is called dementia.  Delirium can be frightening to patients and their families and has serious consequences for recovery.

Dementia is a serious long-term loss of cognitive and functional ability that commonly occurs with age.  Dementia reduces the ability to remember, learn, and reason.  Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia in the United States.

Depression is a mood disorder that can include sadness, lethargy, lack of interest in activities, low self-esteem, trouble sleeping, and other debilitating mental and physical symptoms. Depression is a risk factor for delirium and both are common in hospitalized elderly patients.

The Hospital Elder Life Program (HELP) consists of a series of interventions designed to prevent delirium in hospitalized patients.  For more information about HELP click here.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) is a neuroimaging technique where a magnetic field is used to generate internal images of body parts.  MRI is often used by doctors and researchers to obtain images of the brain. 

Neuroimaging refers to several techniques that allow doctors and researchers to take pictures of living brains.  Common neuroimaging techniques include Computer Tomography (CT) and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI).

Neuropathology is the study of diseases of nervous system tissue.  Neuropathologists examine samples taken from nerves or the brain to diagnose and understand neurological diseases.

Pathophysiology is the study of changes to the body caused by disease.  This can include mechanical, physical, and biochemical functions and is an important part of understanding and diagnosing disease.

The Sweet 16 is an instrument designed to detect cognitive impairment.  The Sweet 16 can be administered quickly and reliably and is available free of charge to nonprofit and educational institutions.  For more information about the Sweet 16, click here.

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