Jillian is an experienced Senior Clinical Neuropsychologist with expertise in the hospital and health care industry. She currently works in private practice and performs clinical, medico-legal, and consultancy work. She has a particular passion for early and accurate Dementia diagnosis, Healthy Ageing and how to remain Mentally Active as we age
What is a neuropsychologist and what do they do?
Clinical Neuropsychologists are experts in brain function. They use standardised tests to measure cognitive function (e.g., memory, attention, problem solving, language) and analyse patterns of cognitive strengths and weaknesses to inform underlying brain health. This can be very useful in understanding the cognitive changes following a traumatic brain injury or a stroke, but also for diagnosis of cognitive decline or impairment at the earliest stages.
When should you see a neuropsychologist and how do you access one?
As a person gets older, changes occur in all parts of the body, including the brain. Occasional lapses in memory, word finding difficulty, and attentional changes are normal as we age. However, persistent, progressive cognitive changes that are impacting on your daily life may warrant further investigation. If you are concerned about your memory (or other cognitive) changes start by seeing your GP. They can run some initial cognitive screening tests and blood tests to identify any potentially reversible causes of cognitive changes. Your GP or specialist can refer you to a Clinical Neuropsychologist for further investigation if no underlying cause for your concerns is picked up on screening.
Clinical Neuropsychologists can provide a cognitive baseline so that concerns about cognition can be monitored for change over time. The baseline can inform tailored strategies for healthy brain aging. Patients can return in 12-24 months after interventions for healthy brain aging to objectively measure whether cognition has remained stable, improved or declined. Accurate diagnosis is important to ensure appropriate psychoeducation, therapeutic management and advice for planning for the future can be provided.
What are the risk factors for cognitive decline as we age?
Underlying vascular disease (e.g., uncontrolled hypertension and high cholesterol).
Smoking and excessive alcohol and drug use.
Obesity and a sedentary lifestyle.
What can we do to stay mentally active and healthy?
Managing lifestyle and physical health can reduce risk or slow rate of cognitive decline.
Minimise consumption of alcohol/illicit drugs and exposure to cigarette smoke.
Reduce stress and look after your mental health.
Regular exercise, a healthy diet, and get enough sleep.
Ensure comorbid chronic diseases are managed well by your GP or specialist (e.g., heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, obstructive sleep apnoea).
There are many things you can do to promote healthy brain aging. These include:
Cognitive stimulation: There is good research supporting 30 minutes per day of cognitively challenging tasks (and not necessarily online brain training games that you pay for). The activity should be effortful but not stressful – do what is fun and engaging (e.g., crosswords, new hobbies, cooking lessons, gardening, reading).
Social stimulation: Sharing the aging process and maintaining social connections is important. It can alleviate stress and provide enjoyable cognitive stimulation. Group activities (e.g., exercise classes) are an excellent way to help maintain regular social connections.
The Dementia Australia website is a great resource for people with concerns about their memory, caring for a loved one with cognitive decline, and information for patients and families experiencing dementia (https://www.dementia.org.au/).