What is Cognitive Impairment?

According to the American Academy of Neurology, mild cognitive impairment is present in 8 percent of people 65-69 years old, in 15 percent of those 75-79 years old, and in 25 percent of those 80-84 years old. Cognitive Impairment occurs when an adult experiences more difficulty remembering things than what is normal for their age, but the symptoms are not as severe as those with Alzheimer’s.

Symptoms of Cognitive Impairment include:

  • Forgetting where you placed things
  • Forgetting important events such as doctor appointments or planned social outings
  • Frequently asking the same question
  • Frequently losing your train of thought
  • Repeating the same story over and over
  • Not recognizing familiar people or finding your way around familiar places
  • Difficulty planning and carrying out tasks
  • Having difficulty exercising judgement

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Causes of Cognitive Impairment

There is no single cause for cognitive impairment, and how the disorder progresses is not uniform. Some people will go on to develop Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, and others will experience the same level of memory impairment for the rest of their life. Few people even see improvement in memory conditions as time progresses.

There are current studies that suggest cognitive impairment develops from a lesser degree of the same brain changes that occur in Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. Through autopsy studies, researchers have found that people with cognitive impairment often see these changes:

  • Abnormal clumps of beta-amyloid protein (plaques) and microscopic protein clumps of tau characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease (tangles)
  • Lewy bodies, which are microscopic clumps of another protein associated with Parkinson’s disease
  • Small strokes or reduced blood flow through brain blood vessels

Other studies focusing on brain-imaging have also shown that people with cognitive impairments often experience the following changes:

  • Shrinkage of the hippocampus
  • Enlargement of the brain’s fluid-filled spaces (ventricles)
  • Reduced use of glucose in key brain regions

Age is a primary risk factor for developing cognitive impairment; however, there are other factors as well to consider such as genetics, history of brain injury, exposure to pesticides or toxins, and lack of physical activity.

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Treatments for Cognitive Impairment

Stay Active

Currently, there is no standard treatment proven to help cognitive impairment; however, as the risk of developing the disorder increases for those who are physically inactive, maintaining a healthy diet and developing a healthy exercise routine can help. Staying involved in activities will help your mind and body as you age, and can be anything from walks around the neighborhood, practicing yoga or tai chi, as well as volunteering in your community.

Memory Aids

Those suffering from cognitive impairment can benefit from using memory tools such as to-do lists, creating notes, and utilizing big calendars. It also helps to place common items such as keys, wallet, or glasses in the same place every day.

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS)

Transcranial magnetic stimulation, TMS, is a noninvasive, non-drug therapy technique that applies magnetic energy to specific parts of the brain. Currently, TMS is only FDA approved to treat depression, but past studies have seen improvement in memory and cognitive abilities when TMS was paired with cognitive exercises. Further research is needed, but the results over the past few years indicate that TMS paired with other types of exercises, such as learning new systems for remembering names, can be beneficial.

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