Purpose of reviewThe fastest-growing group of elderly individuals is the "oldest-old," usually defined as those age 85 years and above. These individuals account for much of the rapid increase in cases of dementing illness throughout the world but remain underrepresented in the body of literature on this topic. The aim of this review is first to outline the unique contributing factors and complications that must be considered by clinicians in evaluating an oldest-old individual with cognitive complaints. Secondly, the evidence for management of these cognitive concerns is reviewed.
Recent findingsIn addition to well-established associations between impaired cognition and physical disability, falls, and frailty, there is now evidence that exercise performed decades earlier confers a cognitive benefit in the oldest-old. Moreover, though aggressive blood pressure control is critical earlier in life for prevention of strokes, renal disease, and other comorbidities, hypertension started after age 80 is in fact associated with a decreased risk of clinical dementia, carrying significant implications for the medical management of oldest-old individuals. The oldest-old are more likely to reside in care facilities, where social isolation might be exacerbated by a consistently lower rate of internet-connected device use. The COVID-19 pandemic has not only highlighted the increased mortality rate among the oldest-old but has also brought the increased social isolation in this group to the forte.
SummaryDiffering from the "younger-old" in a number of respects, the oldest-old is a unique population not just in their vulnerability to cognitive disorders but also in the diagnostic challenges they can pose. The oldest-old are more likely to be afflicted by sensory deficits, physical disability, poor nutrition, frailty, and depression, which must be accounted for in the assessment of cognitive complaints as they may confound or complicate the presentation. Social isolation and institutionalization are also associated with impaired cognition, perhaps as sequelae, precipitants, or both. Ante-mortem diagnostic tools remain particularly limited among the oldest-old, especially given the likelihood of these individuals to have multiple co-occurring types of neuropathology, and the presence of neuropathology in those who remain cognitively intact. In addition to the symptomatic treatments indicated for patients of all ages with dementia, management of cognitive impairment in the oldest-old may be further optimized by use of assistive devices, augmentation of dietary protein, and liberalization of medication regimens for risk factors such as hypertension.