Cognitive Impairment

Cognitive impairment affects memory, concentration, and decision-making. Mild cognitive impairment can be more than the normal decline that comes with aging, but it is not as serious as dementia. Talk to your provider if you, your family, or friends have noticed that your mental abilities are not what they used to be.

Do I have cognitive impairment?

Forgetfulness and memory lapses are a normal sign of aging. With mild cognitive impairment, the symptoms may be worse. Talk to your primary care provider about your concerns. Here are some symptoms to look out for:

  • You are forgetting things more often than you used to.
  • You forget what you were just talking about or lose your train of thought during a conversation.
  • You have problems following directions.
  • There is loss of judgment or increased impulsive behavior.
  • Your mood fluctuates.
  • You act out of character.
  • You have difficulty holding a conversation.

What are the risk factors?

  • Increased age
  • Genetics
  • Diabetes
  • Depression
  • Smoking
  • Brain injury
  • High blood pressure, cholesterol, or other chronic conditions

How is cognitive impairment diagnosed?

Doctors may check your mental functioning through dementia testing, knowledge assessments and more to assess cognitive impairment. In addition, the following tests and screenings may be recommended:

  • Neurological tests of your reflexes, eye movement, and walking or balance

  • Blood tests for Vitamin B12 and thyroid function, which could point to causes of cognitive impairment

  • Mental status screening

  • Brain imaging    

Is there treatment for cognitive impairment?

If doctors can determine what the cause is, they may be able to treat the underlying reason for the impairment. Vitamin B12 deficiency, abnormal thyroid function, and depression all can lead to cognitive impairment, but it can be alleviated with treatment.

Medicare Annual Wellness Visit

The Annual Wellness Visit is a yearly appointment with your primary care provider to assess your physical and cognitive health and create or update your personalized wellness plan. Click to learn more about the importance of regular physical and cognitive screening.
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Know the stages of cognitive impairment

There are multiple stages of cognitive impairment, ranging from mild to severe. Someone may start out in the early stages with mild cognitive impairment and advance to more severe stages, or they may continue experiencing mild symptoms for a long period of time.

  • Mild cognitive impairment: This is when the symptoms listed above are not extreme. A person may have a few of the symptoms listed above, but it is still possible for them to lead a normal, safe life.

  • Advanced cognitive impairment (dementia): This is when a person needs help communicating (talking or writing). People with severe cognitive impairment have multiple symptoms that are dramatic; they may need constant help with memory or be unable to understand what things mean anymore (how to turn off a stove, or what time to go to bed). It is no longer safe for a person with this stage of cognitive impairment to live alone.

People may also experience complications from having cognitive impairment. Those complications can include:

  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Apathy
  • Dementia or Alzheimer's disease

Preventing cognitive impairment

There is not much known yet about preventing cognitive impairment; however, there are things you can do to decrease your chances of developing it.

  • Exercise at least 3-5 times per week for 30-60 minutes.

  • Maintain a healthy diet.

  • Avoid smoking and heavy alcohol use.

  • Avoid activities that may cause a concussion or head injury.

  • Maintain healthy blood sugar levels.

  • Maintain healthy cholesterol.

  • Keep your brain active: do puzzles, play games, and engage with family, friends, and your community—whatever challenges your brain!