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Cognitive Dysfunction

What is Cognitive Dysfunction?

Cognitive disorders are defined as “any disorder that significantly impairs the cognitive function of a person to the point where the normal ability to function in society is impossible without intervention.”

Although cognitive disorders are normally associated with older people they can affect anyone at any age. Cognitive disorders usually begin very subtly and can sometimes be hard to differentiate from normal forgetfulness. However when the disorder takes hold it can significantly impede an individual’s quality of life making it impossible for them to perform without help and support.


Some of the more common cognitive disorders include:

Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimers is a neurodegenerative disease, which means there is progressive brain cell death that happens over a course of time. The total brain size shrinks and the brain tissue has progressively loses nerve cells and connections.

Alzheimers usually begins with minor memory problems. As the condition develops, memory problems become more severe and other symptoms may develop e.g. the person may have difficulty planning or making decisions, they may suffer from personality changes, such as becoming aggressive, demanding and suspicious of others as well as problems with speech and language.

The UK Alzheimer’s Society has stated that there are upwards of 850,000 Alzheimer’s sufferers making it one of the most common types of dementia in the UK. Numbers set to rise to over 1 million by 2025 and will soar to 2 million by 2051. 225,000 will develop dementia this year, that’s one every three minutes. 1 in 6 people over the age of 80 have dementia.

In the US the Alzheimer’s Association estimates that there are 5.5 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s dementia, an estimated 5.3 million are age 65 and older and approximately 200,000 individuals are under age 65 and have younger-onset Alzheimer’s. One in 10 people age 65 and older has Alzheimer’s dementia.

Huntington’s Disease

Huntington’s disease, often shortened to HD was originally called Huntington’s chorea (“chorea” is the Greek word for dancing) and is a rare hereditary degenerative disorder caused by an inherited defect in a single gene that damages certain nerve cells in the brain. It usually develops in adulthood and can cause a variety of issues which can affect the movement and the cognition of sufferers.

It affects up to 1 in 10,000 people in Europe, with men and women equally likely to inherit the disease. The Huntington’s Society of America has reported that 1 in every 10,000 Americans has the disease, that’s approximately 30,000 people. It’s estimated that at least 150,000 other Americans have a 50% risk of developing HD, while thousands of their relatives carry a degree of risk too.

Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive neurological condition. Parkinsons is caused by a loss of nerve cells in part of the brain called the substantia nigra, the basal ganglia structure located in the midbrain that plays an important role in movement. This leads to falling levels of dopamine in the brain.
Dopamine plays a vital role in regulating the movement of the body. A reduction in dopamine is responsible for many of the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease which include tremors, slowness of movement and stiff muscles.

The Parkinson’s Disease Foundation state that “more than 10 million people worldwide are living with Parkinson’s disease. Incidence of Parkinson’s increases with age, but an estimated four percent of people with Parkinson’s disease are diagnosed before the age of 50. Men are one and a half times more likely to have Parkinson’s than women.”

How Many People Worldwide are Affected By Cognitive Dysfunction?

According to the WHO “Cognitive impairment and dementia are increasing globally and are predicted to increase proportionately more in developing regions. Projections indicate that by 2050 the number of individuals older than 60 years will be approximately 2 billion and will account for 22% of the world’s population. Four fifths of the people older than 60 years will be living in developing countries in Africa, Asia or Latin America. It is estimated that 35.6 million people are currently living with dementia worldwide and that the number will nearly double every 20 years, reaching 115.4 million in 2050, with the majority living in developing countries. Of the total number of people with dementia worldwide, 57.7% lived in developing countries in 2010 and a proportionate increase to 70.5% by 2050 is anticipated.”

How do Cognitive Problems Affect Day to Day Life?

Cognitive impairment may affect different aspects of a person life such as:

Ability to Concentrate

Some people find it very hard to concentrate and may lose track of conversations, when reading a book or trying to carry out a task. Focusing on one thing becomes a chore especially when confronted by other distractions. Conversely they may they may become so involved in one thing that they ignore anything else around them or fail to take care of something else that they should have done. Multi-taking can prove difficult to impossible.


Memory is often affected and the ability to remember or recall information can be problematic and new information may also be more difficult to process or retain. The person may not be able to remember minor details and events from many years ago.

The Ability to Process and Respond to Information

It may take longer to take in and understand information and speech maybe slower, often due to slowing of mental processes, making conversation difficult for the sufferer and the other person in the conversation.

Treatment and Intervention

Although research is taking place it is not yet conclusive, however it appears that certain lifestyle choices may help support brain health and prevent some cognitive diseases. Interventions may also be more effective at earlier stages of the disease.

The Alzheimer’s Society has published information on how to reduce your risk of dementia which includes eating a healthy balanced diet which contains a high proportion of oily fish, fruit, vegetables, unrefined cereals and olive oil, while reducing the intake of red meat, saturated fat (e.g. cakes, biscuits, most cheeses), salt and sugar. As well as and taking exercise for at least 30 minutes, five times a week.

This is backed up by articles like those on the BBC website called 10 foods to boost your brainpower and scientific research which has shown that an increased consumption of fruit and vegetables is associated with a reduced risk of cognitive impairment and dementia.

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