What Is the Meaning of a Cognitive Disorder?

Confusion, memory loss and a lack of rational thinking are common characteristics of cognitive disorders.
Confusion, memory loss and a lack of rational thinking are common characteristics of cognitive disorders. (Image: "Free Souls Embrace Creative Commons" is Copyrighted by Flickr user: Pink Sherbet Photography (D. Sharon Pruitt) under the Creative Commons Attribution license.)

A person with a cognitive disorder does not process information correctly within the brain. This results in impaired awareness and judgment, difficulty reasoning and focusing, loss of memory and abnormal mental capacity. People with cognitive disorders have problems acquiring, mentally organizing and responding to information, which results in an inability to function normally in everyday life situations.


According to the website Your Total Health, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) divides cognitive disorders into four main types. With delirium, individuals are confused about their surroundings and cannot think clearly. Dementia is a condition in which normal function of the brain progressively deteriorates over time, resulting in memory loss and confusion. Amnestic disorder, or amnesia, is characterized by normal mental function except for a severe loss of memory. Conditions that don’t fit into any of the above categories are considered "not otherwise specified" (NOS) and mainly consist of mental impairment due to medical conditions or drug abuse.


Cognitive disorders can be triggered by a number of different factors, explains Your Total Health. Delirium can be caused by lack of oxygen to the brain, brain infections (meningitis or encephalitis), certain medications, alcohol or drug abuse, or dangerous toxins. Dementia can occur with a blockage of cerebrospinal fluid (hydrocephalus), Alzheimer's disease, brain tumors, infections, strokes, severe head trauma, HIV, Huntington’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Pick’s disease, drug abuse or mad cow disease. Amnesia is brought about by head trauma, alcohol dependency, severe vitamin deficiency, certain medications, infections, tumors, surgery, strokes, brain inflammation or hypoxia.


Some forms of cognitive disorder caused by medical conditions can be successfully treated. In many cases, medications are prescribed to help stabilize patients, but this does not get rid of the cognitive disorder. Most of the time, delirium can be reversed whereas dementia and NOS medical conditions are often irreversible. A successful treatment for amnesia is sometimes possible and depends upon the cause. Many medical experts believe that maintaining a healthy diet and regular exercise decreases a person’s likelihood of developing some cognitive disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia, states Your Total Health.


A publication by the New York State Office of Mental Health reveals certain myths about cognitive disorders. With certain mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, some people believe the brain will function as normal when not experiencing episodes of hallucinations, depression or delusions. This is not the case. It is the mental illness that causes the brain to have difficulty with basic cognitive function. As long as the illness is present, cognitive difficulty remains. Many incorrectly regard people with cognitive disorders as being lazy an unmotivated. In these situations, the part of the brain that controls cognitive function is damaged so individuals cannot control how they are behaving.

Further Insight

The New York Office of Mental Health states that mental illness affects individuals in different ways. Some individuals may have greater function in some areas than others. Support and encouragement is important in helping those with cognitive challenges to better adapt to their illness and try to improve. Although finding the medication that is most effective with the least side effects can be frustrating, it can prove to be quite helpful and must be done with the utmost care and close observation. More and more professionals are studying cognitive remediation and are committed to helping people better adapt to their mental illnesses.

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