What Is Cerebral Impairment?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 27 September 2019
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Cerebral impairment is a decline in cognitive function that is more severe than expected during the normal aging process, but not as serious as dementia. The patient’s cognitive abilities are not comparable to peers, but it may be possible to live independently and perform a variety of tasks without assistance. This condition can manifest in a variety of ways, and is associated with a range of causes. These can include exposure to hazardous chemicals, brain injuries, and neurological disease.

Patients with cerebral impairment may have memory problems like not being able to perform tasks they should know how to do or being unable to learn new activities. They can also forget dates, names, and other basic information that is normally retained with age. For patients born with cognitive deficits, it may be difficult to acquire language skills. Critical thinking can be challenging and may make it hard for the patient to solve problems, interpret complex information, and answer multi-part questions.

At birth, some people have a form of cerebral impairment. This may be due to congenital abnormalities, fetal exposure to toxins, or problems with the birth. A 2007 study in England showed that vanishing twin, where a twin dies during the second or third trimester of pregnancy, is also a potential cause of cerebral impairment. Infants may display signs of cognitive deficits early, and can lag behind their peers when it comes to learning in school settings.


Other people may develop cerebral impairment over time as they incur brain injuries or acquire medical conditions that affect the brain. This condition is more common in older adults, but is not a normal part of the aging process. Family members, friends, and care providers may notice that a patient has become more forgetful, less focused, and less capable of completing tasks. Cerebral impairment can interfere with self care skills, and may be noticeable in the form of less attention to personal hygiene, eating, and other tasks of daily living.

If a doctor suspects a patient has cerebral impairment, the patient may need to see a neurologist. A screening can provide information about the level of impairment and when it started, which may provide some clues about the cause. This can allow the neurologist to make some treatment recommendations. It may not be possible to reverse the impairment, but it could be stabilized, and the patient might benefit from tools like occupational therapy or a personal assistant to help with some tasks. Screening also provides a baseline level of information that the doctor can refer to in the future to determine if the patient is getting better or worse.



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