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What Is Neurocognitive Impairment?

By J.M. Willhite
Updated May 17, 2024
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Neurocognitive impairment is a serious condition marked by the progressive loss of one’s mental faculties over time. Often known simply as dementia, signs of neurocognitive impairment are not confined to memory loss alone. Individuals often experience difficulty articulating and processing information, as well as behavioral and interpersonal difficulties. Treatment for dementia is entirely dependent on one’s symptoms and usually involves drug therapy.

A comprehensive physical examination and medical history is essential to confirming neurocognitive impairment is taking place. Individuals experiencing difficulty processing information are given a battery of tests to evaluate their intellectual ability, including language, reasoning, and memory skills. Psychiatric and laboratory testing may also be conducted. It is not uncommon for some neurological testing, including imaging tests of the brain, to be performed to rule out other conditions, such as stroke or tumor.

Changes in one’s brain chemistry that contribute to the onset of dementia symptoms are often irreversible. Considered a degenerative condition, neurocognitive impairment can be triggered by an underlying condition, such as HIV/AIDS and Parkinson’s disease. It is also possible for physiological changes within the brain, including arterial narrowing and loss of nerve function, to cause dementia. The most widely known form of neurocognitive impairment is Alzheimer’s disease, which primarily affects reasoning and memory.

Individuals with neurocognitive impairment may not demonstrate any pronounced symptoms at first. Although memory loss is one of the classic signs of dementia, it isn’t the only sign. As brain function deteriorates, people experience difficulty articulating their thoughts and are unable to properly process and retain information. An inability to express one’s self can lead to frustration and behavioral issues that impact social situations and interpersonal relationships. As brain function continues to diminish, some people experience hallucinations, paranoia, and personality changes.

If signs of dementia are ignored, the individual’s independence and safety is often jeopardized. Individuals with neurocognitive impairment gradually lose the ability to care for themselves. It is not uncommon for dementia to cause one to forget to shower, eat, or take his or her medication. If one loses the ability to communicate, it further complicates his or her situation. During the later stages of dementia, it is often necessary for a third party to step in to help care for the individual.

Initially following a diagnosis, treatment for dementia involves drug therapy to slow disease progression. In order to manage one’s symptoms, drugs designed to regulate brain chemistry, such as cholinesterase inhibitors like Aricept, are often prescribed. Depending on one’s condition, antidepressant medication may also be given. Individuals with dementia and their families are frequently encouraged to join a support group to educate them about the condition, build a network of support, and foster healthy coping skills.

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