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What Is a Cognitive Disorder?

A cognitive disorder is any condition that changes your thinking, memory skills, and/or the following:

  • Behavior
  • Memory
  • Speech and language
  • Problem-solving abilities
  • Personality
  • Motor abilities

Why Choose University of Utah Health? 

The Cognitive Disorders Clinic is the most comprehensive and longest-running cognitive evaluation center for dementia and memory disorders in the Mountain West region. Our clinic is a research center and education resource for Alzheimer's disease and dementia. Our multispecialty team includes neurologists, neuropsychologists, and specialized social workers. These experts evaluate and treat cognitive disorders using the most advanced, high-end techniques and tools.

Types of Cognitive Disorders We Treat

There are many types of cognitive disorders. Our clinic focuses specifically on evaluating and treating patients with cognitive conditions:

  • Dementia—This condition occurs when cognitive decline is interfering with your daily function or ability to take care of yourself. Memory loss is a common symptom seen in dementia patients; however, there are many types of dementia with a variety of symptoms. Alzheimer's disease is one well-known type of dementia.
  • Mild cognitive impairment—This condition occurs when there is more cognitive decline than expected with normal aging, but you're still able to function independently. Patients with mild cognitive impairment are at increased risk for developing dementia.
  • Primary progressive aphasia—This condition is a progressive decline of speech and language (also known as dementia of the language network). In the early stages, memory loss is not a problem; however, you may experience word-finding difficulty and spelling or punctuation errors.

Cognitive Disorder Symptoms

People with cognitive disorders may experience many different symptoms:

  • Difficulty finding words or understanding others
  • Forgetting conversations or recent activities
  • Poor or reduced judgment
  • Trouble completing tasks that used to be easy
  • Trouble staying organized, planning, or multitasking

For example, you might have difficulty managing your finances, remembering appointments, or remembering to take your medication. Other people may notice changes in their driving abilities, cooking skills, or technology literacy.

When to See a Cognitive Disorder Specialist

See a specialist if you have any concerns about your thinking and memory skills. It takes a trained health care provider to differentiate between typical age-related memory loss and early stages of a cognitive disorder.

Many people who have a family history of cognitive disorders worry about the potential of developing a cognitive disorder. In these cases, it’s helpful to get a baseline on your cognition, even if you don’t currently show severe signs of a disorder.

Cognitive Disorder Causes

While experts understand that cognitive disorders develop because of changes in the brain, they can’t always pinpoint the reason for those changes.

Many cognitive disorders are the result of neurodegenerative disease. In neurodegenerative diseases, specific proteins accumulate and affect certain parts of your brain. 

You may also develop a cognitive disorder after an acute event, such as a traumatic brain injury (TBI) or stroke. However, the Cognitive Disorders Clinic focuses on patients with neurodegenerative disease.

Risk Factors

Many lifestyle factors affect your risk of developing a cognitive disorder:

  • Cognitive stimulation—One of the most crucial aspects of cognitive stimulation is regular socialization. Engaging in new activities also stimulates your brain, which lowers your risk of developing a cognitive disorder. 
  • Social engagement—Isolating yourself from others increases your risk of dementia. Regularly interacting with others outside of your home is pivotal to brain health. 
  • Diet—Research shows that following a healthy diet, such as the Mediterranean diet, can reduce the risk of developing dementia. These diets are high in produce, healthy fats, and whole grains.
  • Exercise—Getting regular aerobic exercise is imperative for brain health. You can reduce the risk of dementia by getting aerobic exercise 30 minutes a day, five days a week or by walking 10,000 steps per day. Evidence also shows that aerobic exercise improves the function of the memory part of the brain.
  • Mental health condition management—Depression significantly increases the risk of dementia and can cause cognitive decline. You can manage mental health conditions with the help of a trusted mental health professional or your primary care provider.

Most risk factors for cognitive disorders are controllable. Uncontrollable risk factors include the following: 

What to Expect During Your First Appointment

At your first appointment, you’ll meet with one of our providers to discuss different topics: 

  • Symptoms and concerns
  • Cognitive testing
  • Neurological examination
  • Family history
  • Medical history

Your provider may recommend further appointments and tests, depending on the results of your first appointment:

  • Neuropsychological evaluation, a 2-3 hours of testing to evaluate your cognitive skills
  • Additional imaging to get a closer view of what's happening in your brain, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and positron emission tomography (PET) scans.

If your neurologist recommended testing, they will schedule another visit to review your test results. They will discuss your diagnosis and treatment options. After this appointment, you’ll have access to a social worker who will help you with disease education and finding supportive resources.

How to Prepare for Your Appointment

We’ll ask you to identify a care partner before your first appointment. This care partner could be a spouse, child, sibling, or close friend. It should be someone who knows you well and is in good health. Your care partner will come to all your appointments with you. They can offer our team extra insight and support you during and after your clinic appointments.

Cognitive Disorder Treatment

Most cognitive disorders have no cures; however, you can improve your quality of life and manage your symptoms with treatments:

  • Medications
  • Lifestyle changes
  • Support groups

Our specialists provide individualized treatment plans to help each patient maximize their quality of life.

Find a Cognitive Disorders Specialist

Schedule a Cognitive Disorders Evaluation

If you or a loved one are having trouble with memory, language, or daily activities, talk about your symptoms with your primary care provider. We accept self-referrals; however, we prefer referrals from a primary care provider or neurologist. You may request an appointment or call 801-585-7575. Before your appointment, please send all previous medical records and brain imaging, if relevant.

To refer a patient to our Cognitive Disorders Clinic, please fill out our referral form and fax it to 801-585-2746.

Ways to Contribute

Our Center was established in 2005 through a generous gift from an anonymous donor. Our continued operation depends in part on public resources, such as competitive grant funding and University support, but donations from private individuals are equally vital. These generous gifts allow us to sustain our Center's innovative design and to pursue new clinical and research goals.

We gratefully acknowledge the generosity of our recent donors.

Two Ways to Give Now

  1. Mail Your Gift: To mail a gift directly to the U of U Alzheimer's Center, print and complete this form. All gifts to the U of U Alzheimer's Center are tax deductible.
  2. Give NowGive online through the University Hospital Foundation. The Foundation is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, so 100 percent of your contribution is tax deductible.

To designate your gift for the U of U Alzheimer's Center, simply list our name under "Donation Information."

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