Causes of Cognitive Impairment

The most common cause of cognitive impairment is an injury to the brain.

Head injuries kill and disable more people under age 50 than any other type of neurological damage, and they are the second leading cause of death in men under age 35. Approximately one-half of individuals who suffer a severe head injury will die as a result.

Any traumatic impact to the head can cause a cognitive impairment. The brain can be injured even if the skull isn't penetrated. Impairment can result from ruptures in the blood vessels in and around the brain, or from bleeding, swelling, or edema (a build-up of fluid) that creates pressure around the brain.

Injuries Associated with Cognitive Impairment

What makes the diagnosis of cognitive impairment difficult? Usually, it's because it wasn't the primary injury you were treated for.

A cognitive impairment can occur at the same time as a stroke, Spinal Cord Injury (SCI), gun shot wound, or sports injury. As a result, the primary injury/illness receives the medical attention in the hospital and during rehabilitation.

Perhaps you received treatment for the SCI or stroke and were then discharged. Upon your return home, you may have begun to notice difficulty in memory or concentration, or challenges in language expression. You might feel more "forgetful" than you did prior to your injury.

It is important to understand, however, that cognitive impairment can have causes other than head injury. Medication you take following an injury may have side effects of impaired concentration or dizziness. Or you may experience cognitive difficulties as a result of psychological or emotional distress from your injury or illness.

Understanding your Cognitive Impairment Symptoms

To get a proper diagnosis, you must be able to accurately describe your symptoms. For example, you know that you are experiencing difficulty with language. However, your physician may ask you if you are having difficulty retrieving the word you want, or saying the word you have in mind. This kind of understanding will assist you and your doctor in properly diagnosing and treating your problem.


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