Cognitive and neurological health refers to the health of the brain and its overall function. Specifically, cognition is the combination of several critical brain functions, including memory, judgment, language, intuition and the ability to learn. When there are problems with cognitive or neurological health, they can take many forms. A common neurological problem is declining mental function or dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease, which generally develops late in life. Other times, neurological problems can occur earlier in life, such as depression or a head injury.
The greatest concerns with neurological decline are typically seen among the elderly. With mild cognitive impairment, people may have greater than normal problems with memory and mental functioning, but day-to-day activity isn't affected. When cognitive decline does affect normal activities, relationships and a person’s ability to function on a daily basis, it's known as dementia. Various types of dementia affect the elderly, but Alzheimer’s disease is the most common. This often begins with memory loss, lapses in judgment and personality changes, but it also tends to worsen over time. Other forms of age-related dementia include vascular dementia, Lewy body dementia, frontotemporal dementia and Huntington’s disease. Stroke is another common cause of neurological problems in the elderly.
Of course, other health problems that are not necessarily age-related also fall under the scope of cognitive and neurological issues. Depression and anxiety disorders, for example, can occur much earlier in life and also qualify as cognitive problems. Cognitive disorders can also occur because of brain injuries like concussion, medication side effects or a vitamin B12 deficiency.
Treatments for neurological problems vary quite a bit, depending on the cause. Depression and anxiety, for example, are frequently treated with a combination of medication and counseling. Though Alzheimer’s cannot be cured, there are now medications that may delay its onset. There is also some evidence that individuals may be able to prevent Alzheimer’s later in life by practicing healthy habits like not smoking, eating right and exercising earlier in life.
SOURCES: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke; U.S. National Institute of Mental Health.