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Introduction to Cognitive Disorders

Alzheimers Disease and other Cognitive Disorders

"Cognition" is a word that mental health professionals use to describe the wide range of mental actions that we rely on every day. Cognition involves many different skills, including:

  • perception (taking in information from our senses)
  • memory
  • learning
  • judgment
  • abstract reasoning (thinking about things that aren't directly in front of us)
  • problem solving
  • using language
  • planning.

We take many of these skills for granted as we go about our routine activities. For instance, eating breakfast in the morning is a complex task that involves multiple steps. First, we need to be aware of the time (health care professionals call this "being oriented to 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 options and making a choice. Then, we need to follow the correct steps to prepare the meal. Even somethi...More

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What are cognitive disorders?

  • "Cognition" is a word that mental health professionals use to describe the wide range of mental actions that we rely on every day. Cognition involves many different skills, including:
    • perception (taking in information from our senses)
    • memory
    • learning
    • judgment
    • abstract reasoning (thinking about things that aren't directly in front of us)
    • problem solving
    • using language
    • planning.
  • Damage to any part of the brain can result in cognitive problems.
  • Most mental health professionals now believe that the majority of mental disorders (if not all of them) are caused or influenced by brain chemistry or another medical issue that affects how the brain functions.

For more information

What are the causes of a cognitive disorder?

  • There are many other possible causes and types of cognitive disorders.
  • It would take an entire book to list all the possible causes of cognitive disorders and the causes of what is often referred to as cognitive dysfunction.
  • Cognitive dysfunction is a change in thinking like the changes that happen in cognitive disorders but is not a diagnosable disorder like dementia.
  • Some of the major causes of cognitive disorders/dysfunction include:
    • Genes: Genetic influences appear to play a role in many different cognitive disorders.
    • Head Injury: Head injuries can produce significant cognitive dysfunction. They can be a source of disorders like dementia or amnesia.
    • Diseases and Infections: There are many bacteria, viruses, and disease conditions that can affect the brain and lead to cognitive dysfunction or a cognitive disorder.
    • Brain Tumors: Tumors that happen in the brain or in the coverings of the brain can affect the area of the brain where they are located.
    • Exposure to Toxic Substances: There are many substances that can affect the functioning of the brain and lead to cognitive disorders or cognitive dysfunction.
    • Malnutrition or other Lifestyle Factors: Not eating properly, getting sufficient exercise, or other factors associated with the person's lifestyle can lead to the development of a cognitive disorder.

For more information

Can cognitive disorders be cured?

  • There are many conditions that can result in a person developing a neurocognitive disorder. Some of these conditions can be reversed and others cannot be reversed currently.
  • Dementia is a term that refers to a gradual or sudden loss of a person's cognitive abilities. Some of these conditions can be reversed fully or partially.
  • Some examples of forms of dementia that are not reversible currently include:
    • Alzheimer's disease.
    • Lewy body dementia.
    • Dementia associated with Huntington's disease.
    • Frontotemporal dementia.
    • The dementia associated with an HIV infection
  • Some conditions that can produce neurocognitive disorders that may be reversed are:
    • Depression
    • Other neurocognitive disorders that are the result of emotional factors
    • Certain forms of delirium
    • Neurocognitive disorders associated with a vascular problem
    • Neurocognitive disorders associated with a head injury
    • Neurocognitive disorders associated with the use of drugs or medications

For more information

What is Dementia?

  • Dementia is not a specific disease itself.
  • It is an overall term used to describe the symptoms and the effects of symptoms that happen because of certain types of diseases or medical conditions.
  • Dementia happens when areas of the brain that are involved in functions such as learning, memory, language, and making decisions are affected by a disease, an infection, or some type of medical condition.
  • The results of these conditions significantly interfere with the person's ability to function.
  • Alzheimer's disease is a form or type of dementia.
  • People that develop dementia may have difficulty with:
    • Learning new information or recalling (remembering) information.
    • Problems with attention and concentration.
    • Expressing themselves verbally.
    • Understanding spoken or written language.
    • Making decisions.
    • Understanding how objects in the environment are related to one another.
    • Orientation such as not being able to remember the month, year, or where they are.
    • Emotional functioning such as having issues with severe depression or anxiety.
  • The most common type of dementia is Alzheimer's disease, but there are many other known causes of dementia. Other relatively common forms of dementia are Vascular dementia, Dementia with Lewy Bodies, Mixed dementias, reversible types of dementia.
  • Other types of dementia account for a very small proportion of all types of dementia. These conditions include the dementia associated with HIV/AIDS, Parkinson's disease, frontotemporal dementia, and many other conditions.

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:
    • Memory Changes - Changes in memory are the main features that happen in people with Alzheimer's disease.
    • Language Abilities - In the early stages of Alzheimer's disease, people may develop problems with language comprehension. This means that they have trouble understanding spoken words and sentences. This often first appears as difficulty following instructions from others.
    • Problem Solving - Another area that is severely affected in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease is the person's ability to solve problems and make decisions. At first, the person may have trouble solving problems such as calculating how much they owe at the grocery store or paying their bills. Later, even simple decisions such as how to open a can of soup can become an issue.
    • Self-care and Other Areas: As the disease continues to get worse the mental changes that happen in the person may cause them to have issues caring for themselves. This might include remembering to bathe, how to dress themselves, and take care of their basic needs. Other mental abilities can also be affected.
  • The organization, Alzheimer's Disease International, suggests that overall Alzheimer's disease accounts for 70%-75% of all dementia cases.
  • In industrialized nations the diagnosis of dementia ranges from between 5% - 10% in individuals in their 70s. This risk increases significantly as people age with most sources reporting a sharp increase for every decade after the age of 65.
  • Researchers report that the development of any form of dementia is due to the interaction of many factors. Thus, as a person gets older there must be other factors that interact with the aging process that result in an increase in the chance to develop Alzheimer's disease or other forms of dementia.

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?

  • Research does suggest that there may be several activities that most people can engage in that will either significantly decrease the risk that they will develop Alzheimer's disease or will delay the onset of the disorder.
  • These options are often referred to as protective factors or behaviors.
  • Staying Active: Research has consistently reported that remaining active is an important protective factor for many different diseases and conditions that may happen as one gets older. The research has also shown that staying physically active is a very powerful protective factor against age-related diseases and conditions.
  • Getting Good Nutrition: Research has also indicated that good nutritional practices are important preventive factors that can help protect someone against age-related diseases and disorders like Alzheimer's disease.
  • Staying connected with others: Continuing to participate in activities with other people is an important protective factor against all sorts of physical and mental age-related problems. People can significantly decrease the risk of developing disorders like Alzheimer's disease and other dementias by doing things like attending talks or lectures, going to church, playing cards, or just being with other people and interacting with them.
  • Continuing to get regular medical checkups: It is extremely important for older people to make sure that they are up-to-date on all their medical checkups. They also need to continue to follow the instructions of their doctor regarding any medications or the treatment for any conditions. This includes regular dental checkups.

For more information 

What coping skills can someone with dementia use?

  • Do not be afraid to ask for advice from your doctor regarding how to handle this new situation.
  • Confide in family and friends and explain the situation to them as soon as possible.
  • If possible, have family and close friends meet with a doctor and the treatment providers to discuss the situation and potential approaches/coping methods that everyone can work together on.
  • Consider joining a support group.
  • Get treatment for emotional responses such as the start of depression or anxiety.
  • Start a journal to record your reactions, thoughts, feelings, etc.
  • Make use of strategies that can aid you.
  • Change your diet, so that you are eating less junk food, less salt, less carbs, fewer fatty foods, etc. Try to eliminate any use of alcohol except for an occasional alcoholic beverage. Eating healthy can make you feel better.
  • Discuss your use of caffeine with your doctor.
  • Stay as active as possible.
  • For people who are still working, it may be a good idea to discuss the situation with your supervisors to prepare for the future.
  • Stay updated on your treatment.
  • Organize your life to make it as simple and routine as possible.
  • Make sure to plan for the future. If you have not already assigned a legal guardian or power of attorney, this is the time to do that while you can still make these decisions without significant difficulty.
  • Make sure that you always carry identification on you. Getting an identification bracelet with an emergency contact number is a good idea for anyone.
  • Don't give in no matter how difficult it seems.

For more information

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

  • Do your best to understand dementia. Ask questions of treatment providers, read material, and make sure that you understand the basics about dementia.
  • Do your best to understand caregiving. Read books and materials on effective caregiving..
  • Attend to your personal needs in the same way and with the same manner of care that you attend to the needs of the person that you are caring for.
  • Understand and learn about caregiver burnout. This way you can recognize the signs and symptoms of potential burnout and address them.
  • Part of being an effective caregiver is understanding when to take control of the situation, and went to give control to someone else.
  • Ensure that your expectations of the person that you are caring for are realistic.
  • Work with the doctors and other healthcare workers to ensure the best care and setting for your loved one. Do not be afraid to ask questions or ask for help.
  • Always immediately attend to the medical needs of the person you are caring for.
  • Do not put off legal matters such as guardianship issues, power of attorney issues, etc.
  • Plan to do things with the person you are caring for. Do not simply become a waitperson.
  • Remember to adjust your expectations accordingly. Work with treatment providers to understand the person's level of functioning and capabilities. Be ready to change your expectations according to the level of decline that the person experiences.
  • Again, when in doubt, ask for assistance. Do not be afraid to bother physicians, nurses, or other healthcare workers if you have a question about anything.

For more information


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