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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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


News Articles

  • Common Eye Conditions Tied to Higher Risk for Dementia

    Age-related macular degeneration, cataracts and diabetes-related eye disease were linked with a higher likelihood of dementia, researchers in China said. More...

  • Multigenerational Study Finds Links Between ADHD, Dementia Risk

    Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) appears to be somehow linked to risk of dementia and Alzheimer's disease, a new multigenerational study has found. More...

  • Could Traffic Noise Raise Your Odds for Dementia?

    It's more than just an annoyance: Long-term exposure to traffic and train noise may increase the risk of dementia and Alzheimer's disease, Danish researchers report. More...

  • AHA News: What Are Researchers Doing to Stop Dementia?

    Researchers say dementias are so varied and complex, there remain more questions than answers when it comes to how to thwart them. More...

  • Deaths From Alzheimer's Far More Common in Rural America

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    • 1 in 20 Cases of Dementia Occurs in People Under 65

      Dementia is largely a disease of old age, but a new study finds that up to 5% of all cases are among people in the prime of their lives. More...

    • Reading, Puzzles May Delay Alzheimer's by 5 Years: Study

      Activities like reading, writing letters, playing cards or doing puzzles may prolong brain health even for those in their 80s, researchers say. More...

    • Medicare Mulls Coverage for Controversial Alzheimer's Drug

      Medicare launched a formal process on Monday that will determine whether the agency will cover Aduhelm, the newly approved Alzheimer's drug whose high price tag and unproven benefits have prompted widespread controversy. More...

    • Missing Teeth, Higher Odds for Dementia?

      Brushing and flossing is good not only for your teeth: It might also benefit your brain, a new study suggests. More...

    • AHA News: Smoking Harms the Brain, Raises Dementia Risk – But Not If You Quit

      Everyone knows smoking is bad for the heart and lungs. But the damage it does to the brain often gets less attention than it should -- from smokers and health care providers alike. More...

    • Healthy Living Can Lower Your Odds for Alzheimer's

      Alzheimer's disease has no cure, but one expert says it may be possible to reduce the risks of developing the disease with healthy lifestyle changes. More...

    • Most Cases of Dementia in U.S. Seniors Go Undiagnosed: Study

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    • Could a Type of Statin Raise Dementia Risks?

      Certain cholesterol-lowering drugs might speed dementia in some older adults whose memories are starting to fail, a small, preliminary study suggests. More...

    • Poor Sleep After Head Injury Could Point to Dementia Risk

      Sleep disorders may increase the odds for dementia in survivors of traumatic brain injury, new research suggests. More...

    • People of Color Have Twice the Risk of Dying After Brain Injury, Study Finds

      The risk of death after a traumatic brain injury is twice as high among people of color as it is among whites, a new study finds. More...

    • Healthy Living Helps Prevent Dementia, Even If It Runs in the Family

      Researchers found that older adults with healthy habits had a lower risk of developing dementia, versus the less health-conscious -- even if a parent or sibling had suffered from the brain disease. More...

    • AHA News: Is It Normal Aging or Early Signs of Dementia?

      Misplacing keys. Forgetting names. Struggling to find the right word. Walking into a room and forgetting why. Are these early signs of dementia? Or normal signs of aging? More...

    • Failing Kidneys Could Bring Higher Dementia Risk

      Chronic kidney disease may carry an increased risk of dementia, according to a Swedish study. More...

    • Head Injury, Alzheimer's Appear to Affect Brain in Similar Ways

      Alzheimer's disease and traumatic brain injury appear to affect the brain in similar ways, according to a study that may point to new ways to identify people at high risk for Alzheimer's. More...

    • Research Shows Links Between Gum Disease and Alzheimer's

      The mouth is home to both harmful bacteria that promote inflammation and healthy, protective bacteria, the study authors explained. More...

    • Diminished Hearing, Vision Together Could Be Risk Factor for Dementia

      A combination of hearing and vision loss is tied to an increased risk of mental decline and dementia, but having just one of those impairments isn't connected with a higher risk, a new South Korean study finds. More...

    • Loneliness in Mid-Life Linked to Higher Odds for Alzheimer's

      Middle-aged folks who feel persistently lonely appear to have a nearly doubled risk of developing dementia or Alzheimer's disease, a new study reports. More...

    • Drug Used in Cancer Patients Might Help Treat Alzheimer's

      A drug with a 30-year track record as an effective tool for fighting cancer may significantly improve memory and thinking in patients with mild-to-moderate Alzheimer's disease, new research suggests. More...

    • 'Non-Drug' Approaches Can Fight Depression in People With Dementia

      Exercise, mental stimulation and massage are among the drug-free therapies that are as good or better than medication in treating depression in dementia patients, researchers say. More...

    • Suicide Attempts Spike Soon After Dementia Diagnosis

      A new study shows just how devastating a diagnosis of mental decline can be: Researchers found that rates of suicide rise sharply in the months after such news is delivered. More...

    • AHA News: Dementia May Be a Risk Factor for Infection But Not Death From COVID-19

      People who have dementia are at much higher risk of becoming infected with COVID-19, but no more likely to die from it than those without cognitive impairment, new research suggests. More...

    • Even 1 Concussion May Raise Your Odds for Dementia Later

      Sustaining just one head injury may up your chances of developing dementia decades later by 25%, and this risk increases with each subsequent head injury, new research suggests. More...

    • Alzheimer's Patients Are Being Given Too Many Meds

      Many older adults with dementia are prescribed dangerous combinations of drugs that raise their risk of overdose, falls and further mental deterioration, a new study finds. More...

    • Alzheimer's May Strike Women and Men in Different Ways

      The ravages of Alzheimer's may strike later in women than men, but once it takes hold women tend to deteriorate far faster than men, according to a new study. More...

    • History of Mental Illness Tied to Earlier Onset of Alzheimer's Disease

      People with Alzheimer's disease often have a history of depression or anxiety, which might mean an earlier emergence of memory and thinking problems, a preliminary study suggests. More...

    • AHA News: Black, Hispanic Families Hit Hardest by Dementia

      While dementia risk in the United States has been relatively stable over the past two decades, racial disparities have remained high, according to research published last year in JAMA Neurology. More...

    • Why Some 'Super Ager' Folks Keep Their Minds Dementia-Free

      Researchers may have uncovered a key reason some people remain sharp as a tack into their 80s and 90s: Their brains resist the buildup of certain proteins that mark Alzheimer's disease. More...

    • Too Little Sleep Could Raise Your Dementia Risk

      Older adults who get little sleep each night may be at heightened risk of dementia or earlier death, a new study suggests. More...

    • Fluid-Filled Spaces in the Brain Linked to Worsening Memory

      Enlarged spaces in the brain that fill with fluid around small blood vessels may be a harbinger of impending dementia, a new Australian study suggests. More...

    • COVID Vaccine Advised for Alzheimer's Patients, Their Caregivers

      All Alzheimer's disease patients and their family caregivers should be vaccinated against COVID-19, the Alzheimer's Foundation of America says. More...

    • Aphasia Affects Brain Similar to Alzheimer's, But Without Memory Loss

      A rare brain disease that causes loss of language skills doesn't lead to memory loss, a new study finds. More...

    • Could Dirty Air Help Speed Alzheimer's?

      Older adults exposed to air pollution might have a heightened risk of abnormal "plaque" accumulation in the brain, a new study suggests. More...

    • Anxiety Might Speed Alzheimer's: Study

      Older adults with memory problems may progress to Alzheimer's more quickly if they are also suffering from anxiety symptoms, a preliminary study suggests. More...

    • Pre-Op 'Brain Games' Might Prevent Post-Op Delirium

      Just as you can prepare your body for surgery, you can do the same for your brain by keeping it active and challenged through something called "neurobics," according to Ohio State University researchers. More...

    • Staying Active as You Age Not a Guarantee Against Dementia

      Researchers found no link between middle-aged folks taking part in leisure activities and their risk of dementia over the next two decades, according to findings published online Oct. 28 in the journal Neurology. More...

    • Smog Tied to Raised Risk for Parkinson's, Alzheimer's Disease

      As the air people breathe gets dirtier, their odds for serious neurological disorders such as Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's and other dementias rises, new research shows. More...

    • Is Apathy an Early Sign of Dementia?

      Older adults who aren't interested or enthusiastic about their usual activities may have a higher risk of developing dementia, new research suggests. More...

    • Home-Based Care Teams Offer Help for Those With Dementia

      Coordinated effort boosts quality of life, delays need for nursing home, study finds. More...

    • Lifestyle Changes Are No Guarantee Against Alzheimer's

      Panel finds inconclusive evidence that diet, exercise, supplements prevent dementia. More...

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