Cognitive impairment is the slow and steady deterioration of someone’s mental function and faculty. This can involve difficulty in learning new things, making decisions, memory, and concentration. The severity of impairment differs from person to person. The most severe cases can cause someone to lose their ability to speak, write, or take care of themselves.
The CDC states that over 16 million individuals in the US have a form of cognitive impairment. For many, this involves Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, and the number is only rising. With the irreparable, incurable nature of cognitive impairment and the high cost of treatment, people must focus on reducing their risk or managing their conditions.
There are many known causes of cognitive impairment. Those trying to lower their chances of the condition would do well to stay aware of any potential risk factors in their lives. And, if they are diagnosed with cognitive impairment, they’ll need to work hard to handle the complications that arise correctly. Here are five causes of cognitive impairment and three ways to manage them.
5 Causes of Cognitive Impairment
These five things can lead to reduced cognition.
1. Metabolic Imbalance Can Cause Cognitive Impairment
Metabolic imbalances refer to any unusual features of the chemistry of someone’s blood. In some cases, these features are severe enough to affect everyday life. Instead, they are metabolic disorders. Regardless of severity, these metabolic issues may include:
- Liver or kidney dysfunction that taints blood chemistry
- Abnormal levels of calcium or sodium in the blood
- Exposure to heavy metals, such as mercury, lead, manganese, or arsenic
- Difficulty processing glucose and abnormal blood sugar levels
- Hormonal issues, such as thyroid conditions, sex hormone imbalances, Cushing disease, and Addison disease
- Nutritional deficiencies, especially B1, B12, protein, and pellagra deficiencies
- Ingestion of poison
- Substance abuse, such as severe alcohol consumption
Metabolic issues can cause decreased reasoning, thinking, and cognition, claim studies. These cognitive symptoms may be short-term or otherwise non-permanent. Cognitive impairment occurs when the effects become more permanent, which can even cause severe disorders like dementia.
2. Psychiatric Conditions Contribute to Cognitive Impariment
Since they’re mental illnesses, it’s little surprise that cognitive impairment can result from psychiatric conditions. They also connect to late-life psychosis, paranoia, thinking issues, memory problems, and lack of concentration.
While the symptoms of most psychiatric conditions involve some degree of cognitive deficit, cognitive impairment is most common in disorders such as:
Studies prove that schizophrenia can present with multiple different types of cognitive impairment. This disorder has no prominent neuropsychological signature, so exact impairments exist across patients in various styles and severities. Common issues involve working memory, attention, general intelligence, verbal learning, verbal fluency, and executive function.
· Bipolar Disorder
The exact details of cognitive impairment among those with bipolar disorder aren’t very well-understood. Still, research has shown that many patients with the condition experience various neuropsychological struggles. These struggles mainly involve long-term memory, attention, declarative function, and executive function.
· Major Depressive Disorder
With the vast prevalence of depression across the globe, it’s certainly concerning that cognitive impairment often occurs in those who have had the disorder. Research has found that even after major depressive episodes, the cognitive deficits of depression continue to persist. Worse still, the more episodes someone has, the higher their risk of long-term cognitive impairment of a more severe degree.
· Anxiety Disorders
Anxiety is yet another prevalent psychiatric diagnosis, and its connections to cognitive impairment raise many concerns. Research shows that generalized anxiety disorder may have a worsened risk for future cognitive deficits. Those who have experienced the condition should monitor it as they age to identify the signs of cognitive impairment quickly.
3. Damage To The Brain May Cause Cognitive Impariment
Since cognitive impairment has to do with the brain, it makes sense that direct damage to that organ can increase its risk. This damage may cause slow and steady impairment over time or may impart sudden, extreme changes in cognition. Causes in this vein include:
- Head injuries (which may also cause more temporary cognitive deficits)
- Brain neuron damage from injury, neurodegeneration, disorders like frontotemporal degeneration, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and Lewy-Body
- Vascular neuron damage, such as damage to the blood vessels that affects the brain, as is common in cerebral vessel diseases or after strokes
- Infections that directly affect the cells in the brain
- Delirium as a result of non-brain infections, such as urinary tract infections and pneumonia
4. Cognitive Impariment Can Come from Medication
Medications often come with a laundry list of side effects. They may temporarily interfere with cognition as side effects, but some can have more lasting results, especially those already at risk. Common medications that cause this problem include:
These medications assist those who have anxiety or insomnia. Few can deny that they work well, but they also cause habit formation that can increase the risk of dementia, say studies. As used for sleep and calming purposes, virtually all sedatives can harm the brain, which puts those who need medical aid for those functions in a tight spot.
· Mood-stabilizers and Antipsychotics
These medications dampen the brain’s responses and sedate them to some degree, increasing the risk of cognitive decline. Ironically, many older adults with cognitive impairment take these medications to help to manage symptoms like psychosis and paranoia. However, it is a bit of a catch-22.
These medications are usually purchased over the counter as sleep aids, though a doctor can prescribe some. They work by blocking acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter, to produce calming effects. Research has found a link between high usage of anticholinergics and Alzheimer’s risk.
· Opiates For Pain
Opiates are not as severe in risk when promoting cognitive impairment, but long-term users could be putting themselves in harm’s way. To begin with, opiates already dampen one’s ability to think, so it’s easy to see how that can translate to further issues of that nature down the line. More studies must conclude before we know the effects with more certainty.
· Other Prescription Sedatives
The trend here is evident – if it sedates you or calms you, it could harm your brain. Sedatives have to reduce your brain’s reactions to various stimuli by nature. When taken in excess or for a long time, sedatives can permanently change how your brain responds to different inputs.
If you’re worried that certain medications you’re taking may harm your brain or increase your risk of cognitive impairment, speak directly to your doctor about these worries. They may be able to give you medications that are safer or offer additional insight into your concerns. You should also never stop taking a drug suddenly without a doctor’s approval!
5. The Connection Between Advancing Age and Cognitive Impariment
Age-related cognitive impairment is far from uncommon. It’s widespread, and studies have long shown how age affects cognition and brain function. Like most parts of the human body, the brain begins to slow down and experience a greater risk of disease as it ages.
This is why cognitive impairment is a significant concern for those aged 65 and above. Indeed, people of any age can still develop cognitive impairment, but those in their senior years are much more likely to face difficulties in this realm.
Worse still, in most cases, once you’re cognitively impaired, you can’t undo the damage. Your brain will likely continue to deteriorate as you age even more. You can only work on better managing the symptoms to slow their progress.
3 Ways To Manage Cognitive Impairment
How do you build brain health? Try these tricks.
1. Train Your Brain
Like the rest of the human body, the brain needs to be flexed and strengthened with training. Studies show that brain training activities can help to boost cognitive function, even if it’s just a short-term boost. These methods can include:
- Doing number, word, or space-awareness puzzles
- Challenging yourself to learn something new or experience something novel
- Regularly participating in various hobbies and activities that require prolonged focus and attention to detail
- Exercising to get the body moving and develop better coordination
- Meditating or performing a meditative practice, such as mindfulness, visualization, tai chi, or yoga
2. Review Medications
Earlier, we discussed the many types of medication that could lead to cognitive impairment. This means that, once you’re diagnosed with an impairment issue, you’ll need to review the medicines you take to ensure none of them are worsening your problems. In the process, you should:
- Discuss alternatives for sedative-related medications, as they’re the worst for your cognitive function.
- Organize your medications so that you know you’re taking the right amount at the proper intervals. Cognitive impairment could make you forget how much you’ve taken.
- Talk to a doctor about any over-the-counter medications that you’ve been taking.
When you receive new medication prescriptions, schedule follow-up doctor’s appointments a month after the change. You can check if you have worsened signs of impairment at the next meeting.
Research shows that medications, especially antipsychotic ones, are not always the best options for those with cognitive impairment. Behavioral issues may require a calmer, more organized environment instead of more drugs.
3. Outline A Care Plan, If Necessary
In some cases, cognitive impairment is significant enough that additional aid is needed for the patient in question. Severe impairment can prevent someone from being able to take care of themselves. In that scenario, you must come up with a care plan.
It’s a good idea to ask a professional for help when determining a care plan. Doctors will provide you or your loved one with suitable recommendations for safety and health. If you’re doing it on your own, keep these tips in mind:
- Determine what the cognitively impaired individual can do on their own. Everything that they’re unable to do will require external support.
- List down potential avenues for support, be they family, friends, or hired staff.
- Set a time frame for any planned activities, actions, and general goals. Create backup plans for what will happen if these time schedules fall apart.
Final Thoughts On Some Causes Of Cognitive Impairment And Ways To Manage Them
Cognitive impairment is a complex topic, and its effects are anything but easy to manage. Knowing how to address these issues is extremely important, with many potential causes for long-term, permanent impairment. So train the brain, ensure correct and healthy medication consumption, and develop a care plan if necessary.