Cognitive and learning disorders
Common types of cognitive disorders and disabilities
- Age-associated memory impairment (AAMI): Age-associated memory impairment (AAMI) refers to the normal decline in memory as patients age. AAMI causes mild forgetfulness in patients who are older than 50 years of age.
- Alzheimer's disease: Alzheimer's disease (AD) is a progressive cognitive disorder that causes dementia. Dementia is the loss of mental ability that is so severe that it interferes with daily functioning.
- Over many years, AD eventually leads to irreversible mental impairment. During the final stages of AD, patients are unable remember, reason, and learn new things.
- AD typically develops in patients who are 65 years old or older. Although doctors know that AD causes healthy brain tissue to slowly degenerate over time, the exact origin of the disease remains unknown. Patients with AD develop abnormal clumps (called plaques) and irregular knots of brain cells (called tangles). Researchers believe that these clumps and tangles kill brain cells and may eventually lead to AD. It has been suggested that genetics may play a role in the development of plaques, which may lead to AD.
- Inflammation of the brain has also been associated with AD. However, researchers have not discovered if there is a relationship between brain swelling and the development of AD.
- There is currently no known cure for AD. Once diagnosed, patients typically survive eight to 10 years with the disease. Some have been known to live 25 years with the disease. In advanced Alzheimer's disease, people may lose all ability to care for themselves. This can make them more prone to additional health problems, such as pneumonia or malnutrition. They may have difficulty swallowing food and liquids, which may cause individuals with AD to inhale some of what they eat and drink into their airways and lungs, which may then lead to pneumonia.
- Brain injury: Trauma to the head may damage brain cells and lead to cognitive dysfunction. Brain trauma can result from accidents (such as motor vehicle wrecks and falls), assaults (such as gunshot wounds or beatings), or from sports activities (such as boxing and football) without adequate protective gear. In some cases, injury may still result even if protective gear is worn.
- Dementia caused as a result of trauma can be permanent or temporary, depending on the extent of the damage and the ability of the individual's brain to recover.
- Infections of brain structures, such as meningitis (inflammation of the protective membranes in the brain) and encephalitis (inflammation of the brain), are primary causes of dementia. Other infections, such as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and syphilis (a bacterial sexually transmitted disease), can affect the brain in later stages. In all cases, inflammation in the brain damages cells. Damage to memory due to infection can be permanent or temporary, depending on the extent of the damage and the brain's ability to recover.
- Niacin deficiency-induced dementia: Dementia can be caused by severe niacin insufficiency, a condition called pellagra. Niacin is a B-complex vitamin found in a many foods such as liver, poultry, fish, nuts, and dried beans.
- Pellagra-induced dementia is uncommon in developed countries, such as the United States. It is most common in areas of the world where malnutrition is prevalent.
- Multi-infarct disease: Multi-infarct disease is the second most common cause of irreversible dementia. The condition occurs when the blood flow to the brain is disrupted. If the brain does not receive enough blood, then it is starved of oxygen, and permanent brain damage may result.
- In multi-infarct disease, multiple strokes lead to a progressive decline in cognition. Strokes cause neurological damage in the brain due to a lack of oxygen.
- Multiple infarct dementia is more common in men who are older than 50 years of age. A person with this condition may also experience motor weakness, urinary incontinence, and ataxia (irregular muscle coordination). Patients may also develop high blood pressure, diabetes, or vascular disease.
- Learning disabilities: Learning disabilities are disorders that occur when patients have difficulty interpreting or processing what they see or hear. There is a gap between the patient's intelligence and his/her performance in school, work, or other areas of life.
- Patients may have difficulties with spoken and written language, self-control, coordination, and/or attention. As a result, patients may have a hard time with schoolwork or performing tasks at work.
- Learning disabilities may be lifelong. In some cases, they may affect many areas of a person's life, including academics, work, social life, or daily routines. Some patients may have several different disabilities. Others may have only one problem that has little or no impact on their lives.
- It is important to note that not all learning problems are learning disabilities or cognitive deficits. Some children are simply slower than others in developing new skills. In some cases, learning disabilities may be mistakenly suspected when a child is simply slower to mature.
- Learning disabilities occur when certain areas of the brain do not function properly. Many factors, including genetics, may be involved in the development of learning disabilities.
- Intellectual disability (mental retardation): Intellectual disability is a condition that causes significantly impaired cognitive functioning from birth or early infancy that ultimately limits the individual's ability to perform normal daily activities.
- In the past, intellectual disability was commonly called mental retardation. However, the term, "mental retardation," has acquired a negative social stigma over the years. Therefore, doctors and other professionals have begun to replace the term with intellectual disability.
- There is significant variation in the signs and symptoms of intellectual disabilities. Some patients may be able to live relatively normal lives with minimal assistance, while others may require 24-hour assistance with everyday tasks.
- There are many potential causes of intellectual disabilities, including genetics, problems during pregnancy (e.g. infection or a mother who drinks or uses drugs during pregnancy), the baby not getting enough oxygen during delivery, and exposure to disease (e.g. whooping cough, measles, or meningitis). Doctors are only able to identify a cause of intellectual disability in about 30% of patients.
Improving work and school performance
- General: Patients with cognitive learning disabilities are often able to live normal, healthy lives. There are many ways for patients to cope with their disabilities. Special education and adaptive skills training has been shown to improve patients' work and school performances. Patients who are diagnosed and treated promptly are often able to go to college and support themselves.
- Education: Patients with learning disabilities or intellectual disabilities must have the option of receiving education that is tailored to their specific strengths and weaknesses. According to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, all children with disabilities must receive free and appropriate education. According to the law, members of the patient's school should consult with the patient's parents or caregivers to design and write an individualized education plan. Once all parties agree with the plan, the educational program should be started. The school faculty should document the child's progress in order to ensure that the child's needs are being met.
- Educational programs vary among patients. In general, most experts believe that children with disabilities should be educated alongside their non-disabled peers. The idea is that non-disabled students will help the patient learn appropriate behavioral, social, and language skills. Therefore, some patients are educated in mainstream classrooms. Other patients attend public schools but take special education classes. If the disability is severe or profound, then patients may benefit from specialized schools that are designed to teach children with disabilities.
- Adaptive skills training: Many patients with intellectual disabilities (mental retardation) need help improving their adaptive skills, which are needed to live, work, and function in the community. Teachers, parents, and caregivers can help patients work on their daily living skills, communication skills, and social skills.
Tips for caregivers, friends, and family members
- Caregivers, friends, and family members of patients who have cognitive disorders or learning disabilities should educate themselves about the condition. The more a caregiver or loved one knows about the condition, the better they can help the patient. Being educated on the disorder or disability may also help the caregiver learn how to communicate better with the patient.
- Caregivers may find support from other families who are caring for patients with cognitive disorders. Many communities have local support groups for parents, family members, and caregivers of patients with cognitive disorders.
- Parents of children with learning disabilities or intellectual disabilities should stay in close contact with their children's teachers. This helps ensure that the child is receiving appropriate education that is tailored to his/her specific needs. Parents are also encouraged to find out how they can support their children's learning needs at home.
Copyright © 2011 Natural Standard (www.naturalstandard.com)
The information in this monograph is intended for informational purposes only, and is meant to help users better understand health concerns. Information is based on review of scientific research data, historical practice patterns, and clinical experience. This information should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. Users should consult with a qualified healthcare provider for specific questions regarding therapies, diagnosis and/or health conditions, prior to making therapeutic decisions.