Cognitive Impairment (2023)

Cognitive Impairment (1)Cognitive impairmentis abroad term used to describe some degree of difficulty withcognitive functioning. Impairment can range in intensity and may involve problems with memory, concentration, language, perceptual-motor skills, decision making, and learning. This type of cognitive impairment is distinct from dementia, in that it is not assevere.

People experiencing cognitive impairment may find it helpful to both seek medical attention and the services of a mental health professional, who can often help them address the challenges and frustrations they may experience as a result of diminished cognitive function.

  • Understanding Cognitive Impairment
  • Risk Factors and Indicators
  • Can Cognitive Impairment Be Treated?
  • Addressing Cognitive Impairment in Therapy
  • Case Example

Understanding Cognitive Impairment

When cognitive impairment is not so severe as to be classified dementia, it is typically classified as a mild neurocognitive disorder, according to diagnostic criteria in the latest version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). Major neurocognitive disorders, which were formerly grouped together under the label of dementia, are those that involve significant cognitive decline from one’s previous level of performance and interfere with an individual’s ability to independently perform everyday activities such as paying bills or managing medications. Mild neurocognitive decline, on the other hand, does not prevent an individual from independently performing necessary everyday tasksand involves only a modest decline in cognitive functioning.

(Video) Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) - A Guide for the Public

In order to be diagnosedas a mild neurocognitive issue, cognitive decline must not be due to another mental health concern such as depression or schizophrenia and must not occur solely in the context of delirium. Cognitive impairment may becaused by a medical condition, such as vascular disease, HIV infection, Alzheimer’s disease, or Huntington’s disease. It can also be caused by the use of substances or medications or traumatic brain injury but may also occur as a result of unknown causes, or with no apparent reason.

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Risk Factors and Indicators

It is estimated that about 16 million Americans have some type of cognitive impairment. The risk factors vary based on the cause. Some types of cognitive impairment occur in all age groups, while others occur more often, or exclusively, in older adults. Still, the strongest risk factor for cognitive impairment is age, because age increasesan individual’s risk for brain,nerve, andneurodegenerative diseases. Women are statisticallymore likely to developcognitive impairment, though this may be partially attributed to their greater overall longevity.

(Video) Diagnosing mild cognitive impairment

The symptoms of cognitive impairment are varied. Memory issues can include difficulty remembering a grocery list or forgetting the names of characters on a television show. Executive functioning problems might make it difficultto dealwith interruptions when trying to complete a task, to plantasks that require multiple steps to complete, or to organizerecords. At the mild level, these tasks may take longer than they used to or may require extra effort or the use of compensatory strategies,such as making lists and writing things down in order to better remember them.

Because this type of cognitive impairment is mild, individuals and their family members may not immediately recognize the impairment, or they may believe it is simply a normal part of aging. Thus, it is recommendedforpractitioners to take a thoroughhistory in order to be certain that cognitive impairment represents a distinct change in cognitive functioning and nota lifelong pattern. Cognitive impairment may also be diagnosed through the use of neuropsychological testing.

Can Cognitive Impairment Be Treated?

The prognosis of cognitive impairment depends largely on what caused it. For many individuals who develop cognitive impairment as a result of a neurodegenerative disease, symptoms will eventuallyprogress farenough to be classified as major neurocognitive disorder, or dementia. In some cases, however, the effects of cognitive impairment can be reversed. One study found certain factors to be associated with a reversal of cognitive impairment. According to the study, individuals whose cognitive impairment was severe and affected multiple domains were more likely to have irreversible symptoms. However, those people who had greater levels of mental acuity, mild symptoms of cognitive impairment, and better visual acuity were more likely to experience a reversion of their cognitive impairment.

(Video) Mayo Clinic Minute: Exercise might be key to slowing cognitive impairment

Treatment for cognitive impairment may include a variety ofinterventions and the involvement of healthcare providers from several differentdisciplines, medicine, neuroscience, and psychology among them. Although there are currently no medications that are approved for the treatment of mild neurocognitive impairment, researchers are actively working on the development of such medications. Some people find the use of supplements, such as vitamins and ginkgo, to be helpful, though clinical trials have not yet proven the efficacy of any particular supplement. When a person's primary symptom is memory loss, a doctor may prescribe medication typically used to treat Alzheimer's, but these drugs are not typically used to treat mild cognitive impairment. Treating other medical and mental health issues, such as depression, high blood pressure, and sleep apnea, may increase overall mental acuity.People who had greater levels of mental acuity, mild symptoms of cognitive impairment, and better visual acuity were more likely to experience a reversion of their cognitive impairment.

Early detection of cognitive impairment is essential to treatment,as interventions are likely to be mosteffective in the earlier stages of cognitive impairment. Prevention of cognitive impairment may also be possible. It is believed that staying active in older age and maintaining a rich social network can help prevent some cognitive issues. One study, reported on by, found that drinkingone to two cups of coffee each day, when coffee consumption was stable over time, appeared to lower the risk of mild cognitive impairment.

Addressing Cognitive Impairment in Therapy

Therapists who observe symptoms of cognitive impairment in people participating in therapymay take steps to help them identify andaddress any underlying medical issues that may be present. This mayinvolvea referral for neuropsychological testing or medical evaluation. Medical evaluation and treatmentwill not only help to address the cause of the cognitive impairment, but can also rule out any other medical issues that could be contributing to the symptoms, such as a stroke or brain tumor.

(Video) Cognitive Impairment and PTSD

Therapists may also be able to help an individuals cope with cognitive impairmentby teaching compensatory strategies, providing support, and helping them to cope with feelings about their cognitive issues. Including the person's family—especially members of the family who spend a lot of time with the individual—in at least some therapy sessions and involving themin treatmentcan be beneficial, as it can helpfamily members prepare for andcope with the changescognitive impairment may bring about in the person and the effects these changes may have on daily life.

Individuals with cognitive impairment may experience comorbid mental health concerns, such as depression, anxiety, and agitation, and therapy may be helpful in addressing these to improve overall well-being.

Case Example

  • Developing strategies to combat early cognitive decline:Matilde, 41, visits her doctor because she has recently been experiencing what she describes as "forgetfulness and distractibility." She tells the doctor shecan't keep her mind on anything and also reports headaches, fatigue, and general irritability, but she says she believes the irritability may be due to her frustration with herself. She worries that she may be developing a tumor or some form of brain cancer and requests tests. After eliminating other possibilities and performing a number of tests, the doctor informs her it is likely she is experiencing mild cognitive decline. Matilde becomes very distressed, insisting she is too young to experience cognitive impairment, but she eventually comes to accept what the doctor tells her. They discuss possible approaches to treatment, and the doctor also refers her to a counselor. After several months, Matildeshows no further signs of decline andreports a modest improvement, which she attributes to brain fitness exercises and the supplements she began taking. Her counselor has helped her develop strategies to adjust to the changes in her cognitive function and has encouraged her to broaden her social circle, and Matilde has found both of these steps beneficial. When first diagnosed, she wanted to conceal her condition from her family, but she eventually invites them to a therapy session to share the news. They offer their support, and Matildeadmits that she feels more reassured knowing they understand and can offer help if she needs it.


(Video) Mild Cognitive Impairment & Dementia

  1. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Mild neurocognitive disorder. Retrieved from
  2. Cognitive impairment: A call for action, now!(2011). Retrieved from
  3. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: DSM-5. (5th ed.). (2013). Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Association.
  4. Mild cognitive impairment. (2016, October 7).MedlinePlus.Retrieved from
  5. Mild cognitive impairment (MCI). (2016, June 16).Mayo Clinic.Retrieved from
  6. ​Reddy, S. (2016, July 25). Can this brain exercise put off dementia?The Wall Street Journal.Retrieved from
  7. Sachdev, P. S., Lipnicki, D. M., Crawford, J., Reppermund, S., Kochan, N. A., Trollor, J. N., ... the SyndeyMemoryAgeing Study Team. (2013). Factors predicting reversion from mild cognitive impairment to normal cognitive functioning: A population-based study. PLoS ONE, 8(3).
  8. Simpson, J. R. (2014). DSM-5 and neurocognitive disorders. Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law Online, 42(2),159-164. Retrieved from


What are examples of cognitive impairments? ›

Some disease conditions associated with cognitive deficits are:
  • Delerium.
  • Alzheimer disease.
  • Huntington disease.
  • Stroke.
  • Developmental disorders (Down syndrome)
  • Head injury.
  • Multiple sclerosis.
  • Parkinson disease.
27 Jun 2022

What are the three types of cognitive impairment? ›

Cognitive disorders include dementia, amnesia, and delirium.

What is the most common cognitive impairment? ›

Alzheimer's disease, one of the most common cognitive disorders, affects approximately 5.1 million Americans.

How do you fix cognitive impairment? ›

Intellectual stimulation may prevent cognitive decline. Studies have shown that computer use, playing games, reading books and other intellectual activities may help preserve function and prevent cognitive decline. Social engagement may make life more satisfying, help preserve mental function and slow mental decline.

How do you test for cognitive impairment? ›

The most common types of tests are: Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA) test. A 10-15 minute test that includes memorizing a short list of words, identifying a picture of an animal, and copying a drawing of a shape or object. Mini-Mental State Exam (MMSE).

How long can a person live with mild cognitive impairment? ›

Life expectancy for individuals with MCI

The life expectancy for participants with MCI ranged from 21.3 years (95% CI: 19.0–23.6) at age 60 to 2.6 years (1.6–3.6) at age 95.

Is cognitive impairment a disability? ›

A cognitive impairment (also known as an intellectual disability) is a term used when a person has certain limitations in mental functioning and in skills such as communication, self-help, and social skills.

Is anxiety a cognitive disorder? ›

Cognitive impairment (CI) is one of the most intensively studied aspects of pathological anxiety. Impairments in attention, executive functions, memory, cognitive deficit, as well as abnormal cognitions and metacognitions are identified in anxiety disorders.

At what age does cognitive decline start? ›

The brain's capacity for memory, reasoning and comprehension skills (cognitive function) can start to deteriorate from age 45, finds research published on today.

What causes loss of cognitive function? ›

Scientists know that the strongest risk factors for the development of mild cognitive impairment are the same as those for dementia: older age, family history of dementia, and conditions that increase the risk of cardiovascular disease including high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, diabetes, obesity, and ...

What are the four levels of cognitive impairment? ›

The four cognitive severity stages spanning normal aging to dementia are:
  • No Cognitive Impairment (NCI)
  • Subjective Cognitive Impairment (SCI)
  • Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI)
  • Dementia.

What are the four levels of cognitive impairment? ›

The four cognitive severity stages spanning normal aging to dementia are:
  • No Cognitive Impairment (NCI)
  • Subjective Cognitive Impairment (SCI)
  • Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI)
  • Dementia.

What is considered a severe cognitive impairment? ›

It goes on the say that the impairment is severe when the person "[loses] the ability to understand the meaning or importance of something and the ability to talk or write". According to their explanation, people with severe cognitive impairment are unable to live independently.

What is the difference between dementia and cognitive impairment? ›

The main distinctions between mild cognitive impairment and mild dementia are that in the latter, more than one cognitive domain is involved and substantial interference with daily life is evident. The diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment and mild dementia is based mainly on the history and cognitive examination.

What is considered mild cognitive impairment? ›

Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is an early stage of memory loss or other cognitive ability loss (such as language or visual/spatial perception) in individuals who maintain the ability to independently perform most activities of daily living.


1. About Mild Cognitive Impairment - At Your Side Home Care
(ComForCare & At Your Side Home Care)
2. Including Vulnerable Subjects with Cognitive Impairment in Research
3. Exercise, Computer Use and Mild Cognitive Impairment
(Mayo Clinic)
4. Neuropsychology of Alzheimer's Disease and Mild Cognitive Impairment
(Michigan Medicine)
5. Mild Cognitive Impairment - Ten Years Later
(Mayo Clinic)
6. Mild Cognitive Impairment and Diabetes
(Mayo Clinic)
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