Asian seniors talking with female doctor

What Is Cognitive Impairment?

It is estimated that around 10% of people over the age of 65 have mild cognitive impairment, with nearly 15% of those people going on to develop Alzheimer’s disease each year. Cognitive impairment in older adults refers to difficulty with a person’s thinking, memory, concentration and other brain functions beyond what is typically expected due to aging. Cognitive impairment, also called cognitive decline, can come on gradually or appear suddenly, and it can be temporary or permanent.

The brain ages with time, just like the rest of the body. While it is common for older adults to experience some level of forgetfulness, it can be a scary experience for seniors and their families. Not all signs of memory problems indicate cognitive impairment; however, there are some early symptoms to be aware of, including:

  • Forgetting social engagements or appointments
  • Feeling overwhelmed by planning or decision-making
  • Losing the train of a conversation or the storyline while reading or watching a movie
  • Finding it difficult to navigate familiar environments
  • Becoming more impulsive or demonstrating poor judgment
  • Loved ones noticing changes in behavior and increased forgetfulness

Causes of Cognitive Decline

Challenges with memory, thinking or cognitive impairment can be caused by aging and often are attributed to more than one cause. Some of the most common causes of cognitive decline in older adults include:

Medication. Tranquilizers and sedatives are the most common types of medicines that are known to interfere with brain function.

Liver or kidney dysfunction. These conditions can cause imbalances in blood chemistry, which can affect brain function and potentially cause cognitive decline.

Hormone imbalances. High or low levels of hormones, such as estrogen, can impact cognitive function.

Delirium. This condition causes confused thinking and a decreased awareness of the person’s surroundings.

Substance abuse. The abuse of substances, such as alcohol or drugs, can impair brain function to the point of causing cognitive impairment.

Vitamin deficiency. Low levels of vitamin B12, as well as other B vitamins, can lead to cognitive problems.

Injury. Strokes and head injuries are both known to cause long-term cognitive decline.

Psychiatric conditions. Depression, anxiety, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder are the most common contributing psychiatric factors to cognitive impairment.

Medical conditions and lifestyle choices. Some of these may put older adults at greater risk of cognitive decline, such as:

  • Smoking
  • Being overweight
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • High cholesterol
  • Lack of physical exercise
  • Lack of mental engagement or social stimulation

Cognitive Impairment Treatment

While not all cognitive problems are considered cognitive impairment, there is also a difference in the severity and stages of cognitive decline. The four levels of cognitive impairment are:

No Cognitive Impairment (NCI)

Seniors with no notable cognitive decline and no decrease in complex skills are still able to rely on their cognitive abilities. The NCI stage characterizes normal aging in individuals, as well as those with cognitively impairing disorders that are not severe enough to produce any change in cognitive abilities.

Subjective Cognitive Impairment (SCI)

This level notes a subjective cognitive decline or a decrease in functional abilities where the individual remains able to perform their usual daily activities. The individual may be aware that some decline has occurred, yet they are able to compensate for it.

Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI)

Mild cognitive impairment notes a decline in the areas of memory, reasoning, judgment or language that is more notable than changes due to normal aging. Many families make the decision to move a loved one to memory care during the MCI stage. At Hillsboro Rehabilitation & Health Care Center, residents are supported with the activities of daily living, while also enjoying opportunities for social interactions, outlets for creativity with movement, music and art and outdoor therapy to keep their minds and bodies alert and engaged.


Most cognitively impairing disorders occur after the MCI stage. Upon reaching the dementia stage, people have declined in their ability to perform activities of daily living and can no longer participate in hobbies they enjoy. Additionally, the dementia stage can affect the ability to walk, talk, swallow and control the muscles of the neck and face.

While there is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, seniors with either of these conditions, or other conditions that cause cognitive impairment, can slow their symptoms. Social engagement, time spent doing arts and crafts and intellectual stimulation may prevent or slow cognitive decline. At Norterre, residents enjoy their own beautifully decorated living space, as well as access to the world-class WellWay at Norterre, spa and dining options, and the motivational gardens of Performance Park.

About Tutera Senior Living & Health Care

Tutera Senior Living’s memory care communities are designed to support residents with respect. Our expertly trained team members are available to help residents 24 hours a day, while helping to support residents’ mental, physical and emotional needs. All memory care activities help residents to maximize their capabilities and their independence, while offering help as needed. With the help of our memory care experts, residents have access to therapies, socialization and fitness programs to give them the best possible quality of life.

Interested in finding a Tutera Senior Living community near you? Use our community finder tool to see how close we are to your community. Have questions or concerns? We would love to talk. Call us today to get answers, reassurance and support.

Learn more by clicking on the community links below:

Carnegie Village Senior Living Community
Dixon Rehabilitation & Health Care Center
Hillsboro Rehabilitation & Health Care Center
Lakeland Rehabilitation & Health Care Center
The Lodge at Manito Assisted Living & Memory Care Community
Meridian Rehabilitation & Health Care Center
Mission Chateau Senior Living Community
Norterre - The Laurel Assisted Living and Memory Care
St. Paul's Senior Community
Tiffany Springs Senior Living Community
Oakley Courts Assisted Living & Memory Care Community
Stratford Commons Memory Care Community
The Village at Mission Senior Living Community