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Alzheimers Disease and other Cognitive Disorders

Introduction to Cognitive Disorders

Rudolph C. Hatfield, PhD.

My Mom's Handsimage by Ann (lic)"Cognition" is a word that mental health professionals use to describe the wide range of mental actions that we rely on every day. Cognition involves many different skills, including:

  • perception (taking in information from our senses)
  • memory
  • learning
  • judgment
  • abstract reasoning (thinking about things that aren't directly in front of us)
  • problem solving
  • using language
  • planning.

We take many of these skills for granted as we go about our routine activities. For instance, eating breakfast in the morning is a complex task that involves multiple steps. First, we need to be aware of the time (health care professionals call this "being oriented to time") and realize that it is appropriate to have an early meal. Next, we need to decide what to eat, which involves generating different meal options and making a choice. Then, we need to follow the correct steps to prepare the meal. Even something simple like making a bowl of oatmeal can be ruined if the preparation steps are not followed in the correct order (e.g., if you forget to add the water to instant oatmeal before heating it up in the microwave). Finally, we need to remember how to use utensils and swallow to eat.

Damage to any part of the brain can result in cognitive problems. This is a general "catch all" term used to describe impairment in any one (or all) of the thinking skills that we described above. Cognitive disorders used to be called "organic mental syndromes" or "organic mental disorders" to indicate that they had a brain or biological basis. However, the term "organic" is no longer used because it implies that all other mental disorders (not categorized as organic) do not have a biological basis. Most mental health professionals now believe that the majority of mental disorders (if not all of them) are caused or influenced by brain chemistry or another medical issue that affects how the brain functions.


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