Changes in Mental Capacity

Beginning in one’s fifties and sixties the mind’s abilities begin to shift.  It helps to know some of the predictable patterns that follow.

  • Crystallized Intelligence is one’s ability to remember how to do things like ride a bicycle or file a petition. It is related to long term memory, like names and words you learned when you were young. For the most part, this remains strong and in some instances improves over time. 
  • Fluid Intelligence, involves the ability to adapt and logically analyze novel situations.  It is related to short term memory, and includes the ability to recall recent information, like someone’s name.  This area begins to decline. 

Also, one’s ability to shift between multiple areas of thought, like discussing one legal matter and then quickly shifting to another, becomes more difficult. One can still practice with competence in light of these changes, but it requires adaptations. Adaptations may include increased office support, delegating work load, cutting back or allowing oneself more time to handle specific tasks.

Of course, these changes can be quite difficult and lead to negative outcomes in one’s practice and life. Problems like alcoholism, depression, grief, stress, and health problems can exacerbate the situation, leading to a more precipitous decline in mental functioning. While dementia does not normally begin to occur until one’s 70s or beyond, there are exceptions and it is worth remaining vigilant.  Depression is often mistaken for dementia and vice versa. 

The first step in treatment is to discuss your concerns with your primary care doctor. The next step often involves an evaluation with a geropsychologist. These tests of mental processing can indicate differential abilities, impairments in functioning, or serve as a useful baseline should decrements in functioning occur going forward. LAP providers are available to consult with you regarding these sensitive matters and can also provide you with referral resources.

For more information:

AARP has a Brain Health and Longevity section.



Identifying New Directions

Life after retirement

Succession Planning and Ethical Obligations

Checklists for closing your practice

Managing Transitions

Approaches to exiting the practice

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If you are having thoughts of suicide or experiencing a mental health crisis, please call 911 or the Crisis Clinic Hotline at 866-427-4747.