Definition and Overview

Cognitive issues are problems, disorders, and conditions that affect the cognitive ability of a person. A person with such problem may struggle with memory, perception, and learning. Although it is different from actual knowledge, cognition plays a significant role in a person’s ability to learn and eventually live a healthy, normal life.

According to Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V), cognitive problems may fall into the following categories:

  • DementiaDementia is a broad term that covers conditions that affect memory. One of the landmarks of the problem is memory loss, which is often progressive. One of the most common types of this condition is Alzheimer’s disease.

  • Development disorders – These are conditions characterized by poor or delayed learning development of a person. The autism spectrum disorder falls into this classification.

  • Delirium – Delirium is a quick change in perception or awareness. It occurs very suddenly and lasts for only a few short time, but it can drastically affect mood and behavior.

  • Amnesia – Also known as amnesic syndrome, it involves loss of memory including experiences and facts. However, unlike what is being portrayed in the movies, a person doesn’t lose his self-identity.

Causes of Condition

Here are some of the common causes of cognitive issues:

  • Brain injury – A brain injury may develop suddenly (acute trauma) or over time, especially when a person has gone through multiple strokes. A person may have a hard time remembering certain information, suffer from limited abilities such as speech, and lose a part of his or her memory.

  • Unknown cause – Many of the cognitive problems, however, don’t have a definite cause, although a lot of researches have already been conducted to find the answers. In the case of Alzheimer’s disease, more studies have shown that the buildup of plaque deposits called amyloid may contribute to the development of the condition. But it’s still unclear how the plaque develops in the first place.

  • Substance abuse – Abuse of drugs and alcohol can decrease cognitive ability and even induce clinical problems such as memory loss.

  • The presence of other diseases – Diseases such as HIV, Parkinson’s, and Huntington’s have been linked to dementia. Multiple sclerosis is also believed to negatively affect memory.

  • Treatment – A person may develop cognitive issues as a side effect of a particular treatment. An example is chemo brain, which is characterized by poor attention span, low memory retention, and inability to concentrate properly. It can occur during and after treatment. Although it’s more common among those who have gone through chemotherapy, it can also be seen in patients who underwent radiation therapy.

Key Symptoms

  • Difficulty remembering facts, experiences, information, and details
  • Difficulty learning new things
  • Disorientation or confusion
  • Depression
  • Poor coordination of motor function
  • Judgment impairment
  • Poor social skills
  • Glazed appearance

Who to See and Treatments Available

Because there’s no definitive cause of cognitive disorders and that their manifestations differ from one person to another, there’s also no main cure. Treatments vary and are often customized depending on the person’s condition and symptoms. The management of cognitive issues is performed by different health providers, from doctors to social workers.

Some of the well-known cognitive disorder treatments are:

  • Therapies, including behavioral and occupational therapy to allow the person to function as normally and as independently as possible
  • Medications such as mood boosters and drugs that block or promote certain neurotransmitters that are associated with the specific disorder
  • Use of technology to improve information retention and memory
  • Counseling for both patients and their families
  • The creation of an environment that promotes better reception to treatments and care

  • Knopman DS. Alzheimer's disease and other dementias. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 409.

  • McBeth J, Prescott G, Scotland G, Lovell K, Keeley P, Hannaford P, et al. Cognitive behavior therapy, exercise, or both for treating chronic widespread pain. Arch Intern Med. 2012(1);48-57. PMID: 22082706

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