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Cognitive Symptoms You Shouldn't Ignore: Warning Signs and What To Do

Discover commonly overlooked signals of cognitive decline and which symptoms involving concentration, processing speed, and memory loss shouldn’t be ignored.

By 1MD Nutrition Editorial Staff

0 minute read

Last Updated January 3, 2024

Cognitive Symptoms You Should Never Ignore: What to Watch For

Cognitive decline is a growing concern in today's society, as more and more individuals are experiencing changes in their cognitive abilities. From memory loss to difficulty concentrating, these symptoms can be alarming and may indicate underlying health issues. It’s essential to know the main cognitive symptoms to watch for, when to seek medical evaluation, the causes of cognitive decline, and the available treatment and support options so that you can take the necessary steps toward maintaining cognitive health.

Symptoms and Changes to Look For

Memory Loss


One of the most common cognitive symptoms is memory loss. While occasional forgetfulness is normal, persistent memory loss shouldn’t be ignored. It’s important to understand the various ways it can manifest. 

♦ Forgetting important dates, events, or conversations
♦ Misplacing items frequently
♦ Struggling to remember familiar faces and names

Forgetting conversations can be particularly concerning, as it may involve the inability to recall recent discussions or important details from a recent event. This can lead to difficulties in maintaining relationships and engaging in meaningful conversations. 

Struggling to recall important dates or forgetting appointments or deadlines can have practical implications, such as missing important engagements or failing to meet obligations.

Repeating questions is another common manifestation of memory loss. Maybe you might notice you’re asking the same question multiple times within a short period, even after receiving an answer. 

This repetition can be frustrating for both the individual experiencing memory loss and those around them, as it can create a sense of confusion and repetition in conversations.

Misplacing items is another common occurrence associated with memory loss. This can lead to frustration and a sense of disorientation as you struggle to remember where you last placed these items. It can also result in time spent searching for misplaced items and potential disruptions to daily routines.

It’s important to note that occasional forgetfulness is a normal part of life, and everyone experiences it to some degree. However, persistent and worsening memory loss shouldn’t be ignored. If you find that your memory lapses are becoming more frequent or significantly impacting your daily life, seeking medical evaluation is crucial.

There are strategies that can be implemented to help manage memory loss. These include, 

♦ Establishing routines to create consistency
♦ Using memory aids such as calendars or reminder apps
♦ Engaging in mental stimulation activities to keep the brain active
♦ Maintaining a healthy lifestyle with regular exercise
♦ Maintaining a balanced diet with supplements
♦ Seeking support from support groups or counseling

Difficulty Concentrating and Focusing


Difficulty concentrating and focusing is a significant cognitive symptom that individuals should be aware of. You may notice the inability to stay engaged in conversations or tasks, feeling easily distracted, and struggling to follow instructions. If you frequently lose track of your thoughts or have trouble completing once-easy tasks, it may be a cause for concern.

One common manifestation of difficulty concentrating and focusing is trouble following conversations or reading. 

It might be challenging to maintain attention during conversations, leading to missed details or difficulty actively participating in discussions. Similarly, when reading, you may need help staying focused on the text, resulting in a lack of comprehension or rereading passages multiple times.

Being easily distracted is another characteristic of difficulty concentrating and focusing. 

Your mind might frequently wander, and you can become easily sidetracked by external stimuli or internal thoughts. This can make it challenging to stay on task and complete activities efficiently. You may find it difficult to maintain sustained attention even in quiet environments.

These symptoms can have a significant impact on daily life and overall productivity. It can lead to decreased efficiency in completing tasks, reduced performance in work settings, and difficulties in maintaining relationships due to an inability to fully engage in conversations.

If you’re experiencing persistent difficulty concentrating and focusing, it’s important to seek medical evaluation. Various factors can contribute to these cognitive symptoms, including stress, anxiety, depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), sleep disorders, or underlying medical conditions. 

Creating a conducive environment for concentration, such as minimizing distractions and establishing a structured routine, might help you manage some of these symptoms. 

Breaking tasks into smaller, manageable steps can also help improve focus and productivity. Additionally, techniques such as mindfulness and meditation can be beneficial in training the mind to stay present and focused.

Slower Thinking and Processing


Slower thinking and processing is a cognitive symptom that most people don’t consider, but it can significantly impact daily functioning. 

It refers to a noticeable decrease in the speed at which one can understand and respond during conversations, perform once-simple tasks, navigate familiar situations, process complex information, follow fast-paced conversations or TV shows, and make decisions or consider options.

One common sign of slower thinking and processing is taking more time to understand and respond during conversations. You may need extra moments to process what others are saying, leading to delays in responding. 

This can result in a sense of being "out of sync" during conversations and may cause frustration for both you and the person you are speaking with.

Tasks that were once simple and routine may now take longer to complete. 

For example, paying bills or organizing daily schedules may require more time and effort than before. This can be attributed to the decreased speed at which information is processed and decisions are made. It can lead to feelings of inefficiency and may result in missed deadlines or overlooked responsibilities.

Getting lost or confused in previously familiar situations is another indication of slower thinking and processing. Maybe you’re struggling to navigate familiar routes or becoming disoriented in environments that were once easily recognizable. This can be particularly concerning and may impact your sense of independence and confidence.

Trouble following fast-paced conversations or TV shows is another characteristic of slower thinking and processing. 

Rapid exchanges of information or quick scene changes may overwhelm your ability to keep up, resulting in a sense of confusion or feeling left behind. This can impact social interactions and enjoyment of certain forms of entertainment.

If you’re experiencing persistently slower thinking and processing, you should seek medical advice. Various factors can contribute to this cognitive symptom, including age-related cognitive decline, certain medications, underlying medical conditions, or mental health issues. 

To help manage these symptoms, try to give yourself extra time to complete tasks, break complex information into smaller, more manageable chunks, utilize memory aids such as notes or reminders, and practice mindfulness techniques to improve focus and attention.

Deteriorating Cognitive Skills


Deteriorating cognitive skills are a significant indication of cognitive decline. 

This can include difficulties with problem-solving, decision-making, reasoning, adapting to new situations, and learning new information. If you notice a change in your cognitive abilities, it is crucial to take action and seek appropriate support.

One aspect of deteriorating cognitive skills is a noticeably decreased ability to use logic and reason. This can impact problem-solving abilities and the ability to analyze situations and make informed decisions based on sound reasoning.

Challenges with mathematics or detailed tasks can also indicate deteriorating cognitive skills. 

You may struggle with basic calculations or find it difficult to perform tasks that require attention to detail. This can impact various aspects of daily life, such as managing finances or completing work-related tasks that involve complex data analysis.

Struggling with new learning is another characteristic of deteriorating cognitive skills. You may find it challenging to retain or apply new information, even after repeated exposure or instruction. This can hinder the ability to acquire new skills or adapt to changes in the environment. It may also impact memory and the ability to recall previously learned information.

Individuals experiencing deteriorating cognitive skills may be more apt to make questionable or unsafe choices. Impaired judgment can lead to risky behaviors or decisions that have negative consequences. This can impact personal safety, relationships, and overall well-being.

Neglecting personal hygiene and self-care is another potential sign. 

You may find it increasingly difficult to maintain basic self-care routines, such as bathing, grooming, or dressing appropriately. This can be attributed to a decline in executive functioning, which includes the ability to plan, initiate, and complete tasks.

There are various factors that can contribute to cognitive decline, including age-related cognitive decline, neurodegenerative disorders, medication side effects, or underlying medical conditions. 

In addition to medical evaluation, there are good habits you can incorporate to help manage the symptoms of deteriorating cognitive skills. These include engaging in cognitive stimulation activities, such as puzzles or brain-training exercises, maintaining a healthy lifestyle with regular exercise and a balanced diet, seeking support from support groups or counseling, and utilizing memory aids or assistive technologies to compensate for cognitive deficits.

Changes in Mood


Changes in mood can serve as important warning signs of cognitive decline. 

Individuals experiencing cognitive impairment may notice increased irritability, anxiety, or depression. 

These changes in mood may be accompanied by a loss of interest in activities that were once enjoyed. If you or a loved one observe significant changes in mood, it’s crucial to consider the possibility of cognitive impairment and seek appropriate evaluation and support.

One common sign of cognitive decline is experiencing depression or anxiety more frequently. You may find yourself feeling down, hopeless, or overwhelmed without a clear reason. Anxiety may manifest as excessive worry, restlessness, or a sense of unease. 

Rapid mood swings for no clear reason can also be indicative of cognitive decline. Your mood might fluctuate unpredictably, with emotions shifting from one extreme to another without an apparent trigger. These mood swings can be confusing and distressing, both for the individual experiencing them and for those around them.

Heightened agitation, restlessness, or irritation is another characteristic of changes in mood associated with cognitive decline. Becoming easily frustrated or annoyed, even in situations that previously would not have elicited such a response, can strain relationships and impact social interactions.

A lack of motivation or withdrawal from social activities is another potential sign of changes in mood related to cognitive decline. You may lose interest in hobbies, social gatherings, or activities that were once enjoyable. This withdrawal can lead to feelings of isolation and may contribute to a decline in overall well-being.

Personality changes, such as increased stubbornness or inflexibility, are signs. You may become more resistant to change or exhibit rigid thinking patterns. These changes can impact relationships and may make it challenging to adapt to new situations or accept alternative perspectives.

Expressing unwarranted suspicion or anger towards others is another potential indication of cognitive decline. You might exhibit increased paranoia or become easily angered by perceived slights or misunderstandings. These changes can strain relationships and may lead to social isolation.

Seeming emotionally flat or disengaged can also be related to cognitive decline. You may appear less responsive to emotional stimuli or lack emotional expression, which can impact relationships and contribute to feelings of disconnect from others.

Various factors, including cognitive decline, underlying mental health conditions, medication side effects, or other medical conditions, can cause mood changes. 

Thankfully, there are a few ways to manage changes in mood associated with cognitive decline, which include engaging in regular physical exercise, maintaining a healthy lifestyle with proper nutrition and supplements, getting plenty of sleep, seeking support from mental health professionals or support groups, and practicing stress management techniques such as mindfulness or relaxation exercises.

Remember, these signs shouldn’t be ignored, as they can significantly impact daily functioning and overall quality of life. A healthcare professional can conduct a comprehensive assessment and guide appropriate treatment and support options. Seeking medical evaluation and implementing strategies to manage these symptoms can help slow down their progression, improve cognitive function, and support overall well-being. 

When to Seek Medical Evaluation

It is crucial to seek medical evaluation if you or a loved one experiences any of the aforementioned cognitive symptoms. While occasional forgetfulness or difficulty concentrating may not be a cause for immediate concern, persistent and worsening symptoms should not be ignored. Seeking medical evaluation allows for early detection and intervention, which can significantly impact the progression of cognitive decline.

General guidelines from reputable sources such as the Alzheimer's Association and Mayo Clinic provide valuable insights on when to consult a doctor regarding cognitive symptoms. These guidelines suggest seeking medical evaluation if you or a loved one experiences any of the following:

♦ Memory loss that disrupts daily life
♦ Challenges with problem-solving and planning
♦ Difficulty completing familiar tasks
♦ Confusion with time or place
♦ Challenges with language and communication
♦ Poor judgment or decision-making
♦ Social withdrawal or personality changes

It’s important to note that these guidelines are not exhaustive, and individual circumstances may vary. If you have any concerns about cognitive symptoms, it’s always best to consult a healthcare professional for a comprehensive evaluation and appropriate guidance.

Remember, seeking medical evaluation for cognitive symptoms allows for early detection, accurate diagnosis, and timely intervention. It is a proactive step towards managing cognitive decline and supporting overall well-being.

What Causes Cognitive Decline?

Cognitive decline can be caused by various factors, and it’s important to understand the underlying causes in order to manage and treat cognitive impairment effectively. Some of the most common causes of cognitive decline include:

Alzheimer's Disease


Alzheimer's disease is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder that affects memory, thinking, and behavior. It’s the most common cause of dementia and is characterized by the accumulation of abnormal protein deposits in the brain, known as amyloid plaques and tau tangles. These deposits disrupt the communication between brain cells, leading to cognitive decline.

Vascular Dementia


Vascular dementia is caused by reduced blood flow to the brain, often as a result of stroke or other conditions that affect the blood vessels. When the brain does not receive enough oxygen and nutrients, it can lead to cognitive impairment. Vascular dementia is the second most common cause of dementia after Alzheimer's disease.

Stroke


A stroke occurs when the blood supply to the brain is interrupted, either due to a blockage or bleeding. Depending on the location and severity of the stroke, it can cause cognitive impairment, including memory loss, difficulty with language, and problems with attention and concentration.

Parkinson's Disease


Parkinson's disease is a progressive neurological disorder that primarily affects movement. However, cognitive decline is also common in Parkinson's disease, with symptoms such as slowed thinking, difficulty with multitasking, and problems with memory and attention.

Other Neurodegenerative Disorders


There are several other neurodegenerative disorders that can cause cognitive decline, including Lewy body dementia, frontotemporal dementia, and Huntington's disease. These conditions are characterized by the progressive degeneration of brain cells, leading to cognitive impairment.

In addition to these specific conditions, other factors can contribute to cognitive decline, such as chronic medical conditions (e.g., diabetes, high blood pressure), medication side effects, nutritional deficiencies, and lifestyle factors (e.g., smoking, excessive alcohol consumption). Consulting with a healthcare professional specializing in cognitive health can help determine the underlying cause of cognitive decline and develop an appropriate treatment plan.

Diagnosing Cognitive Impairment

Diagnosing cognitive impairment requires a comprehensive evaluation by a healthcare professional specializing in cognitive health. This evaluation typically involves a combination of medical history review, cognitive assessments, and sometimes imaging tests, such as brain scans. 

These diagnostic tools help healthcare professionals assess cognitive function, identify potential underlying causes, and determine the appropriate course of treatment.

One common diagnostic tool is neuropsychological testing. This type of testing involves a series of standardized assessments that evaluate various cognitive domains, including memory, attention, language, and executive function. 

Neuropsychological tests provide valuable information about an individual's cognitive strengths and weaknesses, helping to identify specific areas of impairment and potential underlying causes.

In addition to neuropsychological testing, healthcare professionals may also review the individual's medical history. This includes gathering information about the individual's overall health, past medical conditions, medications, and family history of cognitive disorders. 

A thorough medical history review can provide important insights into potential risk factors and underlying causes of cognitive impairment.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and positron emission tomography (PET) scans can provide detailed images of the brain, allowing healthcare professionals to assess the structure and function of different brain regions. These scans can help identify any abnormalities or changes in the brain that may be contributing to cognitive impairment.

If you or a loved one are experiencing symptoms of cognitive decline, it’s crucial to consult with a healthcare professional who specializes in cognitive health. They’ll conduct the necessary evaluations and tests to determine the cause of cognitive impairment and develop an appropriate treatment plan tailored to individual needs. Early diagnosis and intervention are key to managing cognitive impairment and improving quality of life.



Treatment and Support Options

While there is currently no cure for certain causes of cognitive decline, such as Alzheimer's disease, there are various treatment and support options available to manage symptoms and improve the quality of life for individuals with cognitive impairment.

Medications

Medications are often prescribed to help manage cognitive symptoms and slow the progression of certain conditions. 

Cholinesterase inhibitors: These medications prevent the breakdown of acetylcholine, thereby increasing its levels in the brain. 
NMDA receptor antagonists: These medications work by blocking NMDA receptors, which are involved in excitotoxicity, a process that can damage brain cells. 

Cognitive Rehabilitation and Training


Cognitive rehabilitation therapy focuses on improving cognitive function and helping individuals develop coping strategies for cognitive deficits. 

This type of therapy may involve exercises and activities that target specific cognitive domains, such as memory, attention, and problem-solving. Occupational therapy and speech therapy can also help address functional impairments and communication difficulties associated with cognitive decline.

Lifestyle Changes to Support Brain Health


Daily habits can play a significant role in managing cognitive impairment. 

Regular physical exercise has been shown to have positive effects on cognitive function and may help slow down cognitive decline. 

Engaging in mentally stimulating activities, such as puzzles, reading, and learning new skills, can also help maintain cognitive function. 

A healthy diet, rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins, is important for overall brain health. Additionally, managing chronic conditions, such as diabetes and high blood pressure, can help reduce the risk of further cognitive decline.

Supplements 


Certain supplements and ingredients have also been studied for their potential benefits in cognitive health. 

For example, omega-3 fatty acids, found in fatty fish like salmon and in fish oil supplements, have been associated with improved cognitive function. 

Other supplements, such as Bacopa monnieri, have been studied for their cognitive benefits. B. monnieri contains a compound called bacosides, which have been shown to support memory.

Phosphatidylserine is a naturally occurring phospholipid involved in cell membrane function and protection. This fatty substance transmits messages in your brain to help your memory and cognitive function. 

Grape extract, rich in antioxidants, has been clinically proven to improve cognitive functions such as attention, language, and immediate and delayed memory. At the same time, it’s able to support mood in healthy older adults. 

Folate, a B vitamin found in foods like leafy greens and legumes, has been shown to slow down age-related memory and cognitive decline. 

Green tea leaf extract, known for its antioxidant properties, can help support attention. 

Lastly, vitamin B6 is involved in the production of neurotransmitters. It helps maintain normal levels of homocysteine, an amino acid in the blood that, in high levels, can increase the risk of a number of health concerns. 

Support and Care Services


In addition to these treatment options, support and care services are essential for individuals with cognitive impairment and their caregivers. 

Support groups, counseling, and respite care can provide emotional support and practical assistance. Caregiver education and training can help caregivers better understand the condition and learn strategies for managing daily challenges.

It’s important to work closely with healthcare professionals to develop an individualized treatment plan that addresses the specific needs and goals of the individual with cognitive impairment. Regular follow-up appointments and ongoing monitoring can help ensure the treatment plan is effective and adjusted as needed.

The Bottom Line

Cognitive decline is a significant health issue that shouldn’t be ignored. By recognizing the warning signs and seeking medical evaluation when necessary, individuals can take proactive steps toward maintaining cognitive health. Early detection and intervention are crucial in managing symptoms and improving quality of life. 

Remember, taking action and seeking help for cognitive symptoms is essential for managing the condition effectively. With early detection and an integrative approach to treatment and support that includes medications, therapy, lifestyle changes, and high-quality supplements, individuals can improve their quality of life and maintain cognitive function to the best of their abilities.