What Is a Cognitive Disorder?

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  • Written By: Debra Durkee
  • Edited By: Daniel Lindley
  • Last Modified Date: 16 April 2014
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A cognitive disorder impacts an individual's ability to perform basic mental functions. Some types have established guidelines for diagnosis, such as age-related dementia and Alzheimer's disease. Others, known as cognitive disorders not otherwise specified, can include learning difficulties or impairments developing as a result of an accident or stroke.

Cognition is defined as an individual's ability to perform tasks that use functions such as memory and reasoning. Those with a cognitive disorder have symptoms such as memory loss, difficulty thinking problems through from start to finish, and focusing for long periods of time. Symptoms the individual displays are listed together and defined as a syndrome, further diagnosed as a specific condition or a cognitive disorder not otherwise specified.

Some cognitive disorders develop as an individual ages. Dementia is perhaps the best known and often manifests difficulties controlling or harnessing brain function in different areas. There are different types of dementia; some individuals will develop problems with long-term or short-term memory, while others will have trouble conceptualizing objects that are out of sight. It may become difficult to solve problems or make decisions, and speech may become impaired.

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Other types of cognitive disorders can be caused by outside trauma or deficiency. Korsakoff syndrome causes memory loss, hallucinations, and a tendency to tell stories. Caused by a lack of the vitamin B1 in the system, it can result in permanent damage to specific areas of the brain. An individual who has been in an accident or suffered a blow to the head can also develop damage to a certain part of the brain, leading to cognitive difficulties.

Someone may also be born with a cognitive disorder that begins to manifest as he or she ages. Some learning disabilities, such as dyslexia, fall into the category of cognitive disorder, as the brain cannot properly process the appearance and order of letters, numbers, or words. Different types of dyslexia manifest difficulties with spelling, reading, understanding language, or any part of language capabilities.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is another common cognitive disorder impacting an individual's ability to focus his or her attention. An individual with this condition often finds it difficult to sit still or perform tasks that require closely following instructions. These individuals are often thought of as careless and flighty, and many individuals can go undiagnosed with a cognitive disorder until well into adulthood. A cognitive disorder seldom has a cookie-cutter diagnosis; rather, a wide range of symptoms, abilities, and impairments may be evident.

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