Cognitive impairment: what it is, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment

What is cognitive impairment?

When we talk about cognitive impairment the first thing we have to do is to define what cognition is. Cognition is knowledge, what and how people know. Therefore, cognitive impairment studies what and how is altered when the first symptoms of memory, language, attention or calculation deficits appear.

How is cognitive impairment diagnosed?

Cognition is influenced by biological, psychological and social factors. I will focus on the latter two.

To evaluate the psychological factors that affect cognition, we have to determine the patient’s state of mind, the stressful situation, the social relationships, the occupational and work roles that the person has had, plays or has played. All of this frames and gives us important information to then be able to encard the results we have from the neuropsychological evaluation.

The neuropsychological evaluation is a detailed study of cognitive functions, attention, memory, language, visuospatial, visoconstructive functions, executive functions… all this requires an analysis through neuropsychological tests to determine which are the alterations and which are the preserved capacities of that person.

What is the treatment of cognitive impairment?

When there is an impairment of some cognitive function, the first thing we have to know is the origin. I am going to leave aside all the biological causes and focus on the more neuropsychological causes.

Once we have identified a cognitive impairment we can support the patient by focusing on the areas that are not affected. The work from the point of view of non-pharmacological treatment focuses on cognitive stimulation together with physical activity and nutrition. And another very important issue is to try to control all vascular risk factors, since it has been studied and there is a lot of scientific evidence of how issues such as hypertension, diabetes or cholesterol affect brain function.

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How to detect it and how can the family help?

A basic issue when we are talking about cognitive impairment is early detection. When a family or a person begins to observe changes in their cognitive function, does not remember things as before, finds it difficult to find words, has difficulty planning activities that were not costly before, it is important to consult a primary care physician who will refer them to a specialist.

A basic aspect for the quality of life of an elderly person with cognitive impairment is the support of his or her family. In order for the family to support such a patient, they need to have information, they need to understand what is happening to them, why it is happening and what they can do. That information is what we provide in the consultation after having made a thorough assessment, we try to answer these questions.