Navigation Link

Introduction to Cognitive Disorders

Alzheimers Disease and other Cognitive Disorders

"Cognition" is a fancy word that mental health professionals use to describe the wide range of brain-based behaviors that we rely on every day. Cognition encompasses lots of different skills, including perception (taking in information from our sensory organs), memory, learning, judgment, abstract reasoning (thinking about things that aren't directly in front of us), problem solving, using language, and planning.

We take many of these cognitive skills for granted as we go about our routine activities. For instance, eating breakfast in the morning is a relatively complex task that involves multiple steps. First, we need to be aware of (health care professionals call this "oriented to") the time, and realize that it is appropriate to have an early meal. Next, we need to decide what to eat, which involves generating different meal choices and making a selection. Then, we need to follow the correct steps in order to prepare the meal. Even something simple like a bowl of oatmeal...More

Fast Facts: Learn! Fast!

What are cognitive disorders?

  • "Cognition" describes the wide range of brain-based behaviors that we rely on every day.
  • Cognition includes lots of different skills, including perception (taking in information from our sensory organs), memory, learning, judgment, abstract reasoning (thinking about things that aren't directly in front of us), problem-solving, using language, and planning.
  • Damage to any part of the brain can cause a cognitive disorder.

For more information

What are the causes of a cognitive disorder?

  • Cognitive disorders can be caused by all sorts of brain problems, including tumors, strokes, closed-head injuries, infections, exposure to neurotoxins (i.e., substances that are toxic to the brain), genetic factors, and disease.
  • The specific type of cognitive disorder someone develops depends on the part of the brain that is affected.
  • For instance, a tumor that grows in the brain's speech centers will result in problems with communication. Similarly, an infection in the brain's motor centers will cause problems with movement.

For more information

Can cognitive disorders be cured?

  • Professionals classify cognitive disorders into two broad categories: those that are irreversible, or not curable, and those that are reversible or curable.
  • Dementias are irreversible, progressive, degenerative disorders that gradually reduce a person's ability to function in everyday life.
  • A person with dementia cannot regain his or her previous level of functioning, even though some symptoms may be managed through treatment.
  • Examples of this type include Alzheimer's Disease, Lewy Body Dementia, and Dementia caused by the AIDS/HIV virus.
  • Examples of reversible cognitive disorders are pseudodementia and delirium.

For more information

What is Dementia?

  • Many people mistakenly use dementia as a synonym for Alzheimer\'s Disease.
  • "Dementia" is an umbrella-like term that refers to any brain syndrome that causes multiple cognitive deficits without specifying the cause for the symptoms.
  • A person with dementia can experience all sorts of problems, including: 1) Impaired Memory (especially the ability to remember recent events and newly learned facts) 2) Impaired Language Skills (decreased ability to communicate to others and understand what is being communicated) 3) Impaired Orientation (not knowing who one is, where one is, and/or what time it is) 4) Impaired Judgment (the ability to make decisions regarding personal, interpersonal, financial, and/or medical affairs) 5) Impaired Executive Functioning (the ability to plan and carry out daily tasks and make decisions).
  • Dementia can be caused by one medical condition or by multiple medical problems. Most dementias are caused by one of the following: 1) Alzheimer's Disease, which accounts for 50-70% of all dementia cases 2) Vascular Disease, which accounts for 15-20% of all dementia cases and includes strokes (disruptions in the blood supply to the brain) and transient ischemic attacks (TIAs, or mini strokes) and 3) Lewy Body Disease, which accounts for up to 20% of all dementia cases.

For more information on Dementia and its Causes

What is Alzheimer's Disease?

  • Alzheimer's Disease is the most frequent cause of dementia and is not a normal part of aging or "just what happens when we get old."
  • There are several differences between normal aging and Alzheimer's Disease:
    • Forgetfulness - People aging normally might forget part of an experience (I can't remember what I had for breakfast yesterday). People with Alzheimer's Disease will forget the entire experience (I can't remember yesterday morning at all).
    • Remembering - People aging normally may forget something (such as a movie recommendation for a friend), but they will eventually recall the desired information (e.g., later in the evening or the next day). People with Alzheimer's will not recall the information at a later time.
    • Comprehension - People aging normally can usually follow verbal or written instructions with no problem (e.g., filling out a sweepstakes entry or following a recipe). People with Alzheimer's Disease become less and less able to follow instructions (or multiple step directions) as the disease progresses.
    • Memory Aids - People aging normally will usually benefit from using notes and other reminders (e.g., a grocery list). People with Alzheimer's gradually become less able to benefit from memory aids (e.g., they will forget that they have a list, or forget how to use the list).
    • Self-Care - People aging normally may be stiff or have some aches and pains, but they can still complete personal care tasks (e.g., bathing, dressing, styling hair, going to the bathroom, etc.). People with Alzheimer's lose the ability to perform these kinds of tasks because they cannot remember the steps involved, and eventually, they won't remember when these tasks are appropriate.
  • According to a 2008 national study, 9.7% of individuals age 71 and over in the United States - or 2.4 million people - have the disorder.
  • When you include people of all ages, over 5 million individuals in the United States currently have Alzheimer's Disease.
  • The risk of developing AD increases dramatically with age; almost 50% of individuals over 85 are coping with this disorder.
  • Estimates suggest that if a cure or an effective prevention strategy for Alzheimer's is not found by the year 2050, anywhere between 11 and 16 million people age 65 and older will be affected.

For more information on Alzheimer's Diease
For more information on causes
For more information on diagnostic criteria
For more information on warning signs
For more information on how it is diagnosed
For more information on how it is treated

Can Dementia and Other Cognitive Disorders be prevented?

  • There is no "vaccine" against dementia, nor is there a guarantee that the prevention methods will work for everyone.
  • Healthy lifestyle choices regarding diet, nutrition, exercise, and intellectual and social activity can reduce the risk of developing dementia and other cognitive disorders.
  • Research suggests that the risk can be lowered by adopting a "brain-healthy" diet that avoids saturated fat and cholesterol and includes dark-skinned fruits and vegetables, cold-water fish, and other foods that contain Omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Cardiovascular exercise that strengthens the pumping force of your heart, such as swimming, walking, running, and cycling, and resistance training that strengthens muscles, such as weight lifting and sit-ups are the best types of exercise for brain health.
  • Excellent ways to stay mentally active include reading; writing; doing crossword puzzles or other kinds of games; attending classes, lectures, and plays; and taking up new hobbies.
  • Research suggests that social activities which combine physical and mental activity are the most effective at preventing dementia. For instance, walking with a friend while talking about a topic that requires problem solving is better than just walking, just visiting a friend, or just problem solving while alone.
  • Great ways to stay socially active include being involved in work or volunteer activities, joining clubs, and traveling, particularly in organized travel groups.

For more information 

What coping skills can someone with dementia use?

  • If you have recently been diagnosed with dementia, it is normal to experience a wide range of emotions, such as denial, anger, fear, loneliness, frustration, loss, and/or depression.
  • Take care of your physical health through nutrition, exercise, and adequate rest.
  • Schedule regular medical check-ups with a professional who has expertise in dementia and related conditions.
  • Be sure to take medications as prescribed, and return to the doctor before making any changes to your medications on your own.
  • Avoid using alcohol as a coping mechanism because it could interact with medications or cause additional health or cognitive problems.
  • Consider keeping a journal to write down, express, and work through your feelings.
  • Find an early-stage dementia support group where you can connect with others who have been diagnosed and learn more about the disease.
  • Seek mental health treatment if you are depressed and coping strategies are not helping.
  • Keep the lines of communication open with family and friends.
  • Continue participating in your favorite and regular activities as long as you can, and as long as you still enjoy them.
  • Perform difficult tasks at times of the day when you feel your best and most alert.
  • Keep a written schedule handy to keep track of appointments, tasks, and medication schedules.
  • Make sure your belongings are organized in such a way that things are easy to find.
  • Remember that a diagnosis of dementia does not mean that life is over. It means that there will be challenges ahead, and thinking about those challenges now will better prepare your whole family for them and benefit all of you in the long run.

For more information

What coping skills can a caregiver of someone with dementia use?

  • Dementia poses significant changes and sources of stress for those who care for a person with the diagnosis.
  • Learn as much as you can about the disease as soon as possible. You will be better prepared to handle the variety of challenges associated with dementia if you know what to expect and have some ideas about how other people have handled similar challenges.
  • Adjust your expectations by imagining what your loved one is going through.
  • Attend to your own physical and mental health because you cannot help someone else without helping yourself first.
  • Keep the lines of communication open with family and friends.
  • Make sure that legal and financial issues are in order, and include your loved one in the decision-making process as much as possible.
  • Take an active role in your loved one's health care.
  • Plan activities with your loved one that you both enjoy and that can be adapted to the person's current level of functioning.
  • Monitor yourself for signs of caregiver burnout, such as anger, anxiety, irritability, or depression.
  • To prevent or address caregiver burnout, try joining a caregiver support group, which can provide education, emotional support, and connections to local resources that can help you meet your caregiving responsibilities.
  • If self-coping methods are not working, seek mental health care from a professional who has expertise in addressing caregiver burnout, depression, and grief.

For more information

News Articles

  • Alzheimer's Cases to Double by 2060: Report

    As the baby boomer population ages, the number of Americans with Alzheimer's disease will double by 2060 More...

  • Gene Discovery May Help Fight Alzheimer's

    The discovery may explain why some people with known genetic risk factors don't develop Alzheimer's, the study authors said. More...

  • Could New 'Brain Training' Program Help Prevent Dementia?

    In what is being billed as a first, researchers report that healthy seniors who tried a new brain-training program were less likely to develop dementia down the road. More...

  • Millions Could Miss Out on a Potential Alzheimer's Breakthrough

    That's because the U.S. health care system doesn't have the ability to quickly implement a newly approved treatment on a widespread scale More...

  • Sleep Apnea May Boost Alzheimer's Risk

    So claims a new study that has linked sleep apnea with an increase in the development of amyloid plaque in the brain, a hallmark of Alzheimer's disease. More...

  • 45 More
    • New Finding Hints at Clue to Dementia

      FRIDAY, Nov. 3, 2017 (HealthDay News) -- Inflammation in middle age may increase the risk for brain shrinkage and dementia in old age, a new study suggests. More...

    • Resilient Brain Connections May Help Against Alzheimer's

      THURSDAY, Nov. 2, 2017 (HealthDay News) -- Certain pieces of brain structure may make some people less likely to develop Alzheimer's disease. More...

    • America's Dementia Caregivers Cite Stresses, Rewards

      New survey results illustrate the ups and downs of caring for aging family members. More...

    • Health Tip: Identifying Vascular Dementia

      Describing the different forms More...

    • One Type of Dementia Is Especially Costly

      Annual bills for this early onset disease twice as high as for Alzheimer's, study says. More...

    • A More Accurate Predictor for Alzheimer's?

      Genetic test might one day diagnose the disease before symptoms occur, researchers say. More...

    • Failing Sense of Smell Tied to Dementia Risk

      Long-term study suggests inability to identify scents may be early sign of problems. More...

    • Is Dementia Declining Among Older Americans?

      Rates have fallen among those 70 and older; gains against heart disease might explain trend. More...

    • Intracranial Pressure Monitoring No Benefit in Pediatric TBI

      For children with severe traumatic brain injury, intracranial pressure monitoring is not associated with improved functional survival, according to a study published online Aug. 28 in JAMA Pediatrics. More...

    • Gender-Specific High-Risk 'Window' Seen in Alzheimer's

      Women with a genetic predisposition for Alzheimer's disease face a 10-year window -- between ages 65 and 75 -- when they have far greater chances of developing the disease than men with similar genetic risks, according to a study published online Aug. 28 in JAMA Neurology. More...

    • Women at Risk for Alzheimer's Face Critical 10-Year Window, Study Says

      If your genes predispose you to the illness, 65 to 75 may be high-risk years. More...

    • Do Fewer Nightly Dreams Mean Higher Dementia Risk in Seniors?

      For every 1 percent drop in sleep's REM phase, a 9 percent jump in odds for thinking, memory troubles, study found. More...

    • Dementia Care: A Huge Financial Burden for U.S. Families

      Annual costs may top $320,000, study estimates. More...

    • Popular Heartburn Drugs Don't Raise Risk of Alzheimer's: Study

      Researchers say people need not avoid proton pump inhibitors like Nexium or Prilosec in hope of preventing dementia. More...

    • Families Shoulder Majority of Costs Related to Dementia Care

      Lifetime costs of care are substantially increased for individuals with dementia, according to a study published online Aug. 17 in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. More...

    • Midlife Vascular Risk Factors Tied to Increased Risk of Dementia

      Risk factors for dementia include black race, older age, and lower educational attainment, as well as midlife vascular risk factors such as smoking, diabetes, and hypertension, according to a study published online Aug. 7 in JAMA Neurology. More...

    • Midlife Behaviors May Affect Your Dementia Risk

      Of greatest importance are diabetes, blood pressure and smoking, researchers say. More...

    • Traveling With Dementia: Tips for Family Caregivers

      Stick to familiar routines, advises Alzheimer's Foundation. More...

    • Higher Risk of Dementia Seen in Those Hailing From 'Stroke Belt'

      Health issues for people born in high stroke mortality states include a higher risk of developing dementia -- even if they move elsewhere, according to research published online July 31 in JAMA Neurology. More...

    • Health Tip: Alzheimer's Affects Sleep

      Here's how More...

    • Noninvasive Brain Test May Pinpoint Type of Dementia

      In small study, electrical currents helped distinguish Alzheimer's from another form of brain trouble. More...

    • Targeting 9 Risk Factors Could Prevent 1 in 3 Dementia Cases: Study

      Reducing mid-life hearing loss might make the biggest difference. More...

    • AAIC: Rx + Training Shows Benefit in Advanced Alzheimer's

      Patients with advanced Alzheimer's can relearn some basic skills when they receive special training along with medication, according to research presented at the annual Alzheimer's Association International Conference, held from July 16 to 20 in London. More...

    • AAIC: Alzheimer Biomarkers Up With Sleep Disordered Breathing

      Biological changes in the brain may underlie a relationship between sleep disordered breathing and Alzheimer's disease, according to new research. A trio of studies on the matter were scheduled for presentation at the annual Alzheimer's Association International Conference, held from July 16 to 20 in London. More...

    • Dozens of Potential Alzheimer's Meds in the Pipeline

      Last new drug for the memory-robbing disease was introduced in the United States in 2003. More...

    • Special Training Plus Medication Might Help People With Advanced Alzheimer's

      Skills lost, such as dressing or bathing, can potentially be relearned, small study suggests. More...

    • Sleep Problems: An Early Warning Sign of Alzheimer's?

      Small study found an association but didn't prove link. More...

    • PPIs Not Found to Raise Risk of Alzheimer's Disease

      Proton pump inhibitors don't appear to increase the risk of dementia, as has been previously suspected, according to a study published online June 7 in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. More...

    • Popular Heartburn Meds Don't Raise Alzheimer's Risk: Study

      New research debunks other studies suggesting that medications used to treat ulcers, reflux cause mental decline. More...

    • Lifestyle Changes Might Prevent or Slow Dementia

      The public should be aware of this encouraging research, expert says. More...

    • Severe Headaches Plague Vets With Traumatic Brain Injuries

      Study finds they can last up to 11 years after initial injury. More...

    • Sticky Brain 'Plaques' Implicated in Alzheimer's Again

      Researchers believe these substances form in early stages of the memory-robbing disease. More...

    • 'Making the Best of It': Families Face the Heavy Burden of Alzheimer's

      With U.S. cases expected to triple to 16 million by 2050, support for caregivers desperately needed. More...

    • Cognitive Decline Linked to Visual Field Variability

      For patients diagnosed as having glaucoma or glaucoma suspects, cognitive decline is associated with increased visual field variability, according to a study published online May 18 in JAMA Ophthalmology. More...

    • Alzheimer's Deaths Jump 55 Percent: CDC

      More patients also dying at home, with the caregiving burden falling on loved ones. More...

    • Life Expectancy Slighter Shorter With Parkinson's, Dementia

      Patients with degenerative brain diseases die about two years earlier compared with people who don't have these conditions, according to report published online May 15 in JAMA Neurology. More...

    • Low Body Mass Index Not Risk Factor for Alzheimer's Disease

      There is no link between low body mass index and risk of Alzheimer's disease, according to research published online May 9 in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. More...

    • Wives, Daughters Shoulder Most of Alzheimer's Care Burden

      Careers, finances may take a hit because of caregiving demands, researchers say. More...

    • Gene Mutation May Speed Alzheimer's Decline

      If beta-amyloid plaques are present in the brain, process is even faster, study finds. More...

    • Silent Seizures May Contribute to Alzheimer's Pathology

      Undetected seizures may contribute to some symptoms associated with Alzheimer's disease, such as confusion, according to research published online May 1 in Nature Medicine. More...

    • 'Silent' Seizures Tied to Alzheimer's Symptoms

      Researchers suggest they're a potential target for treating the disease. More...

    • Psychiatric Scars of Wartime Brain Injury May Linger for Years

      Study finds woes often continue, even if thinking, memory troubles subside. More...

    • Many Patients With Alzheimer's Disease Discontinue AChEIs

      Discontinuation of acetylcholinesterase inhibitors for treatment of Alzheimer's disease is common, with adverse effects and cost cited as major factors, according to a study published recently in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. More...

    • Antipsychotic Medication Use Can Be Reduced in Dementia Patients

      Hoping to cut the use of antipsychotic drugs in nursing home residents, researchers tried training staff on new ways to meet the needs of residents with dementia. Their findings were published online April 17 in JAMA Internal Medicine. More...

    • Past Psychiatric Disorders Do Not Raise Risk of Alzheimer's Disease

      Having a mental health disorder doesn't translate into a higher risk of Alzheimer's disease later in life, according to a study published in European Psychiatry. More...

Share This