What is Cognitive Impairment in the Elderly?
Many studies indicate that there is a relationship between cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s Disease. You see, cognitive impairment does not only affect children, it can also affect anyone at any age, because one of the causes of cognitive impairment is thought to be a head injury that impacts a critical part of the brain.
This is sometimes termed “Mild Cognitive Impairment”, or MCI, might some studies indicate may represent some kind of “transitional stage” between normal aging and dementia. The problem with stating this definitively, however, is that progression from one stage to another is typically very slow, and as a result some people may die of natural causes before experiencing full scale Alzheimers disease.
The percentage of elderly people who are afflicted with dementia is increasing steadily every year for unknown reasons. When an Orange County psychologist or specialists are treating elderly patients who have been diagnosed with dementia, they are normally very well aware of the fact that almost 50% of them will also be demonstrating a certain degree of cognitive impairment.
With the doctors and professionals, the biggest challenge does not lie in the diagnosis of the disorder, but also in treating those situations where the affliction has been termed as irreversible. As medical science and technology makes advances, the number of cases where a case needs to be classified as “irreversible” is diminishing, but there are still an alarming number of cases with that designation.
Listed below are some of the typical steps and tests that a trained professional will take to be able to accurately diagnose an elderly patient with a cognitive impairment disorder:
1. Examine Patient History
First, it is critical for the doctor to get a thorough medical history from patient to assist them in arriving at an accurate diagnosis. It is thought that much of this disorder can be hereditary, and therefore such information plays an important diagnostic role. Questions that would typically be asked would include:
a. Have you had this problem before?
b. How long have you had this problem; i.e., days, weeks, years?
c. Does anyone else in your immediate family have this affliction?
Frequently, the sudden appearance of this condition may suggest a serious medical condition such as trauma, infection, a small stroke, etc, which many times can be corrected. Without the outside influence of things like that, it is highly unlikely that this condition would “just suddenly appear” in a patient.
A trained professional will be able to understand much by asking the patient to elaborate on what symptoms they are suffering from. Some of this information can be obtained by a careful examination of the patient’s past medical history as well as from the patient themselves. It is not at all uncommon for someone afflicted with a form of cognitive impairment to repeatedly ask the doctor the same question over and over, which is due in part to the detrimental effect of this on short-term memory.
3. Physical Examination
A neurological examination by a trained doctor is important to perform in order for them to look for the focal signs that may well suggest that the patient has either had a stroke or is suffering from some other disorder, like Parkinsonism. Both of these can also cause cognitive impairment in the elderly.
4. Mental Status Examinations
Although most professionals will conduct a mental status evaluation on an elderly patient as a standard operating procedure, it may also be necessary to do a full mental status exam on the patient by a doctor who is trained in this field. This will measure the degree and level to which the patient is able to focus and concentrate, their level of awareness and general consciousness, and the way in which they respond to general questions. All of these things combined will provide the doctor with clues as to their cognitive impairment state and level, and indeed whether or not they are suffering from cognitive impairment or some other similar type of disorder.