What is a cognitive impairment? Is it the same thing as Alzheimer's disease?

1 answer | Last updated: Oct 05, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

Mother has been diagnosed a year ago with cognitive impairment. I find very little about it but it is often grouped with alzheimers. Please explain what it is. Do we use the alzheimer's approaches to deal with it? What is it's normal progression?

Expert Answers

Joanne Koenig Coste is a nationally recognized expert on Alzheimer's care and an outspoken advocate for patient and family care. She is the author of Learning to Speak Alzheimer's. Also, she currently is in private practice as an Alzheimer's family therapist. Ms. Koenig Coste also serves as President of Alzheimer Consulting Associates, implementing state-of-the-art Alzheimer care throughout the United States.

Cognitive impairment and Alzheimer's disease(AD)are frequently used in the same context but should not to be confused with one another as AD is a diagnosis made following an intense neuro-workup and cognitive impairment refers to a symptom usually noted by problems with knowledge, awareness, and understanding hallmarked by the loss of ability to process information.

The confusion lies in the fact that cognitive impairment is a major issue with AD but can also be caused by many other medical, physical and psychological entities, many of which are treatable and/or reversible.

Using Alzheimer approaches to interact with your mother makes good sense. Anyone who has difficulty with cognition can benefit from having their caregiver walk with them in their new cognitive world - not correcting, nor chastising, nor calling on the impaired adult to 'remember' something that may no longer be available for recall. The person experiencing cognitive impairment needs a great deal of support as there is often an accompanying awareness of the difficulty; mild depression may occur with changes in cognition.

The question you need answered by the medical community is, "What is causing the cognitive-impairment?" Once you know why her ability to process information has been affected, you can plan for the future with or without further progression.

Do take care of yourself while you are caring for your mother.