Dementia and Cognitive Decline
Dementia is defined as a decline in cognitive functioning (in this description, I will use criteria that some experts implement to define dementia as an irreversible decline in cognitive functioning). To meet criteria for dementia, cognitive impairment must affect at least two functions of the brain. Examples include: memory, thinking, language, judgment, and behavior. Dementia can be caused by a variety of conditions or injuries, and the range of impairment may range from mild to severe. Dementia can also be progressive, which means that symptoms can worsen over time.
In the early stages of dementia, symptoms can include:
- Struggling to cope with change
- Subtle decline in short term memory ability
- Struggle to recall words
- Repetition-you may ask the same questions multiple times without realizing it, or tell the same story without realizing that you have already told the story.
- Struggling with sense of direction, even in a familiar area
- Changes in mood
- Loss of interest
- Difficulty completing daily tasks
Dementia can typically be identified by a neurologist in its moderate and severe stages. However, when mild cognitive impairment or mild dementia is present, neurologists may refer for neuropsychological testing to help determine if cognitive decline is present (i.e. greater decline than would be expected for one’s age). Neuropsychological testing can determine if a decline in functioning has occurred, and it can measure both personality and cognitive functioning in different domains. If you or your doctor believe that you may have experienced cognitive decline, a neuropsychological evaluation is a great place to start the diagnostic process.