Cognitive Impairment Guides & Articles
What Is Cognitive Impairment?
Cognitive impairment occurs when a person’s brain isn’t able to function effectively. People with cognitive impairment may have trouble remembering, learning new things, or making decisions. The condition can negatively impact many areas of life, including school, work, relationships, driving, taking medications, and managing money.
The types of cognitive impairment include subjective cognitive decline (SCD), mild cognitive impairment (MCI), and short-term cognitive impairment. 1 Symptoms can range from mild to severe, and those with severe cognitive impairment can lose the ability to talk, write, understand others, and live independently.
Although cognitive impairment can affect people of all ages, advanced age is the greatest risk factor. Around two-thirds of Americans experience cognitive impairment at some stage in their life, and the average age of onset is 70. 2 In addition to impacting the person experiencing brain changes, cognitive impairment also affects the individual's families, friends, and caregivers.
Cognitive impairment can have devastating effects on a person’s emotional and physical well-being. It is important to understand what cognitive problems are, how they can be treated and how to cope with them in order to learn to live with this type of impairment. By fully understanding the nature of a specific cognitive impairment, you […]
Cognitive problems are common across all demographics of people. Thankfully, there are many treatment options available that can address cognitive issues and help individuals suffering from these disorders to live balanced, healthy lives. What Causes Cognitive Issues? There is no single, overarching cause for cognitive impairment. By the same token, there is no one ideal […]
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Cognitive disorders often begin subtly but progress until they significantly impede the affected individual’s quality of life. It is important to understand the various cognitive disorders, their symptoms and relevant treatment options. What Are the Types of Cognitive Disorders? Cognitive disorders are a part of the neurocognitive disorder classification in the fifth edition of the […]
Schizophrenia is a chronic, severe mental disorder in which a person has a hard time telling the difference between what is real and not real. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 1 percent of the population suffers from this disorder. The disease can also affect families. Individuals with schizophrenia usually have difficulty […]
Schizophrenia is a brain disease that affects approximately three million people in the United States alone. It is a highly treatable disease, and there are many new treatments for schizophrenia that can help improve people’s lives. What Is Schizophrenia? There are three types of schizophrenia, which are divided by the types of symptoms: positive, negative, […]
Sharing a life and a home with someone who has premenstrual dysphoric disorder can be a challenge if you are unprepared. The symptoms of PMDD, if left untreated, can be disruptive to the sufferer’s life and the lives of everyone she lives with. Fortunately, there are studies, treatments and support to help everyone cope with […]
Epilepsy is a set of chronic neurological disorders that are characterized by seizures. The seizures may be provoked or unprovoked, and they may be recurrent. A single seizure that is combined with some brain alterations can increase the chance of seizures in the future. Who Gets Epilepsy? Epilepsy results from the excessive or abnormal activity […]
Dementia is a disease that can bring grief to a family if it isn’t handled correctly. There are so many myths circulating about the illness, and many people do not understand that dementia is a manageable condition. In fact, many families living with a dementia patient can find some peace and a little stability. It […]
Dementia is a term used to describe a severe loss of mental ability. This includes, but is not limited to, the loss of memory. Memory loss is normal as people age, but when it starts to disrupt daily life, it may be due to dementia. Dementia is caused by underlying diseases that damage the brain’s […]
Intellectual disability is fairly common, and it occurs in approximately 1 to 2 percent of people. Psychiatric and behavior problems occur three to six times more in these individuals than in the general population, so the assessment of these patients is important in treating these issues. How Is Intellectual Disability Diagnosed? Intellectual disability is normally […]
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is a common mental illness characterized by the inability to concentrate or sit still. The condition is, of course, more involved than these two symptoms. However, when people think of ADHD, the image is of a young child squirming in his seat. The truth is that the condition manifests itself in […]
Do the Elderly Face Depression? Depression over the age of 65 can be difficult; patients may have difficulty functioning and feel distressed. Later-life depression can be caused by medical illnesses. About 15 percent of people over 65 have symptoms of depression, and these symptoms can make them feel physically ill and increase mortality. Depression can […]
What Is Mild Cognitive Impairment?
Mild cognitive impairment, or MCI, is the formal name for the mildest symptoms of cognitive impairment. People experiencing MCI are likely to notice changes but are still able to complete everyday activities. Signs of MCI can include:
- Regularly losing things
- Forgetting events and appointments
- Difficulty remembering words
- Increasing mobility issues
- Problems with the sense of smell
For most people, MCI is a step along the path to dementia. The American Academy of Neurology states that 14.9% of people aged 65 and over with MCI develop dementia within 2 years. 3 Although research is limited, it’s believed that these numbers continue to rise with time.
Although everyone ages in different ways, health care professionals consider some experiences part of “normal aging.” These include a gradual mental decline leading to forgetfulness and a slowing of the ability to process information. However, normal aging doesn’t decrease a person’s intelligence, long-term memory, or ability to perform daily activities. This is what differentiates cognitive impairment and MCI from normal aging.
What Causes Cognitive Impairment?
Cognitive impairment isn’t a particular disease. Various conditions cause cognitive impairment, including:
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Developmental disability
- Traumatic brain injury (TBI)
- Certain infections
- Lack of oxygen to the brain
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of cognitive impairment in the United States. 4
What Are the Symptoms of Cognitive Impairment?
The symptoms of cognitive impairment include:
- Memory loss
- Difficulty with short-term memory
- Lapses of judgment
- Inability to make decisions
- Slowing of thought processes
- Lack of recognition
These symptoms can look different for everyone. How noticeable the symptoms are can depend on the person, their coping mechanisms, and their level of independence. Signs to look for include:
- Asking the same question or repeating the same story over again
- Inability to recognize familiar people or places
- Inability to discern what to do in an emergency
- Changes in mood or behavior
- Vision problems
- Difficulty planning and carrying out tasks, such as following a recipe or keeping track of monthly bills
How Is Cognitive Impairment Diagnosed?
The first step in diagnosing cognitive impairment is taking a thorough medical history to determine what may be causing symptoms. A doctor also performs tests and assessments to rule out other issues, including blood tests and brain scans.
If no sign of another cause is evident, doctors perform cognitive impairment tests. These are short mental status assessments that test memory, planning, decision-making, the ability to understand information, language, and complicated thinking tasks. If cognitive impairment is found, the doctor looks for the underlying cause. These tests may be conducted by brain specialists, such as neurologists.
It’s important for people to make their doctors aware of symptoms that may be related to cognitive impairment. One study found that 40% of the time, physicians didn’t recognize cognitive impairment in their patients. 5 Mild cognitive impairment tests and screening for dementia can help detect some cases of cognitive impairment and allow for early treatment. 6
Best Treatment for Cognitive Impairment
The best treatment for cognitive impairment depends on the cause. It’s important to treat any underlying condition as the impairment may be reversible. Medications are available to slow Alzheimer’s disease and dementia and relieve cognitive impairment symptoms, but these don’t work for everyone. 7
Many people find it helpful to see a psychological professional. Anxiety and depression can worsen cognitive impairment. Treating these conditions often brings improvement to symptoms. Cognitive rehabilitation with a psychological professional may also ease problems.
It’s important for people with cognitive impairment to see a doctor every 6-12 months. This is especially true of people with MCI. A health care professional tracks changes and ensures the condition isn’t getting worse.
People can take steps to improve cognitive impairment or reduce its impact. These can include:
- Regular physical exercise
- Brain exercises, such as crossword puzzles and sudoku
- Social support
- Quitting smoking
- Not drinking excessively
- Maintaining good blood pressure and cholesterol levels
- Reducing stress
- Getting enough sleep
How to Cope With a Cognitive Impairment Diagnosis
A diagnosis of cognitive impairment can be challenging to cope with, as it can mean changes to the personality and a loss of independence. Finding ways to have some control over the situation can help. People can try gaining knowledge about cognitive impairment, making lifestyle changes, and reducing stress through sleep and relaxation.
It's helpful to find strategies to manage symptoms. For example, a person who has problems remembering appointments may invest in a good planner or add reminders to their phone. This can be helpful for those with MCI.
Support groups are a good way to process the news and get help from people with similar experiences.
How to Help Someone With Cognitive Impairment
It can be difficult watching a loved one cope with cognitive impairment. A proper diagnosis is the first step, so families should encourage the person to get medical help. It can be useful to accompany the person to doctor’s appointments. A person with cognitive impairment may have difficulty understanding or remembering the conversation and is often comforted knowing someone they trust is there for backup.
Other ways to help someone who has a cognitive impairment diagnosis include:
- Making plans for future care, finances, and legal obligations
- Adapting tasks to maximize independence
- Prioritizing safety in the home
- Finding opportunities for meaningful engagement
- Re-evaluating needs regularly