Perceptions of Cognitive Aging Among Older Veterans

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Background and objectives: To understand the perceptions, knowledge, and understanding of memory, cognition, and aging among older veterans. Researchdesign and methods: Twelve male, Caucasian, community-dwelling veterans from a suburban New England demographic area, aged 62 to 83 years, participated in qualitative interviews. The interviews were audio recorded, transcribed verbatim, and subsequently coded by three independent reviewers. The responses were calculated and analyzed for major themes. Results: Veterans equated healthy aging to be both of a physical and cognitive nature, although a significant subset viewed especially intact cognitive faculties to be a sign of successful aging despite physical limitations. Two of the most widely cited concerns about aging were loss of functional independence and the progression of cognitive decline into dementia, although most of the participants were unable to accurately describe dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Military service was associated with both positive (e.g., social support) and negative (e.g., trauma) associations with aging. Most of the participants noted the importance of a healthy diet and exercise in aging but were unable to accurately describe a healthy diet or exercise regimen or the effect of these activities on the brain. Discussion and implications: Aging veterans represent a unique population among older adults, and more information is required to understand their specific needs. Older male veterans are less likely to engage in healthcare; for some, education alone may be enough to improve engagement, whereas for others an estimate of current cognitive function would provide the extra motivation required.

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