Cognitive impairment expresses a huge range of mental deficits from the very minor to the extremely severe in adults and children suffering from a variety of conditions. People can be impaired temporarily, have conditions diagnosed as mild cognitive impairment, suffer from illness creating progressive impairment, or simply have lower levels of ability to learn or remember (as with mental retardation) that will remain constant throughout life. Anyone who is impaired cognitively may lack, to greater or lesser degree, certain “normal” thinking facilities like the ability to remember, learn at a normal pace, adapt behavior to social settings, and process or understand information.
When people discuss brain deficits, they may mean mild cognitive impairment, an actual condition that raises the risk for Alzheimer’s disease. It occurs in seniors and typically involves conditions like recurring pronounced forgetfulness. Everybody forgets occasionally, but this type of impairment stretches beyond this to a pattern of forgetfulness that is usually easily recognizable. Not everyone who has the condition, which also may have symptoms like increasing depression or anxiety, develops Alzheimer’s, but it should be monitored when it occurs in seniors.
Some other forms of relatively mild impairment occur as a result of things like chemotherapy and during periods of life like menopause. The former has sometimes been referred to as "chemo brain" and the latter as "brain fog." Mild deficits in cognition related to body response to chemicals or body chemical changes may cause some errors in thinking, though principally people with these conditions remain high functioning. There are a number of temporary forms of cognitive impairment too, most related to either traumatic brain injury or to conditions like stroke. Many people recover fully as they recover from these conditions.
Very severe impairment can result from things like stroke or other forms of brain injury or they may present due to certain diseases or conditions. People with retardation lack the ability to perform what would be considered “normal” acts of cognition, and they need great support to function. Progressive conditions like Alzheimer’s disease, and some genetic diseases in childhood gradually strip the brain of its ability to act normally, and over time, impairment worsens.
Given the variety of potential causes, it’s difficult to discuss treatment for cognitive impairment. People with permanent mild to moderate deficits in thinking may respond to interventions, accommodations and some teaching techniques. Progressive illnesses are usually the most difficult to address because there are few treatments available. For diseases like Alzheimer’s, early treatment with certain drugs may help slow progress of the disease.
Temporary causes of impairment, like menopause or chemotherapy, mean most recover cognitive function as time passes and treatment isn’t required because impairment is slight. Recovery from things like stroke may restore majority of brain function, though not always. Those with true “mild cognitive impairment” are usually tested to be certain that they don’t have hormonal dysfunctions like low thyroid and doctors should closely evaluate people showing these signs to make certain the condition isn’t and indication of Alzheimer’s.