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Patients Ask: Is Alzheimer’s a Neurocognitive Disorder?

March 3, 2022Neelem Sheikh

With increased awareness surrounding Alzheimer’s disease that primarily stems from recent advancements in Alzheimer’s disease diagnostics and treatments, people of all ages are beginning to think about their brain health. However, navigating the complex terminology and classifications of diseases like Alzheimer’s can be overwhelming and confusing, and people often wonder if Alzheimer’s is a neurological disorder. 

So, is Alzheimer’s a neurocognitive disorder? To answer this, we must first understand what a neurocognitive disorder is. A neurocognitive disorder is a general term used to describe decreased neurocognitive function due to a disease, illness, or injury. Alzheimer’s is a neurocognitive disorder in the same way that Alzheimer’s disease is a cause of dementia; similar to how Alzheimer’s can be classified as a cause of dementia, it can also be classified as a neurocognitive disorder.

To help provide further clarity surrounding Alzheimer’s disease and neurocognitive disorders, we have provided basic information on Alzheimer’s disease, other causes of neurocognitive disorders, and the importance of early and frequent monitoring of neurocognitive function.

Alzheimer’s Disease Overview

Alzheimer’s accounts for approximately 60-80% of all dementia cases and is the most common cause of dementia, an umbrella term used to describe a group of symptoms associated with a decline in memory, reasoning, thinking, or other cognitive functions. 

How Alzheimer’s Disease Affects Neurocognitive Function

Symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease can vary from person to person, as cognitive and functional impairments, also known as neurocognitive impairments, may be present. In other words, Alzheimer’s disease can cause changes in cognitive and functional domains of brain function. The proportion of cognitive impairments to functional impairments is likely to vary depending on where a person lies on the disease continuum, as the pathology of Alzheimer’s can affect each individual uniquely.

Cognitive impairments may include changes in:

  • Learning and memory.
  • Language.
  • Complex attention.
  • Executive functioning.
  • Planning.
  • Cognitive processing speed.
  • Mood and behavior.

Functional impairments may include changes in:

  • Speech and articulation.
  • Vision and eye movement.
  • Gait.
  • Fine motor coordination.

Alzheimer’s Disease Diagnosis

Alzheimer’s disease is most commonly characterized by beta-amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles resulting from abnormal tau hyperphosphorylation. These distinct pathologies are crucial in making an Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis and are commonly identified through imaging and diagnostic procedures, such as magnetic resonance imaging, positron emission tomography, and cerebrospinal fluid analysis, after some degree of cognitive impairment is detected through pencil and paper cognitive assessments.

Risk Factors for Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s disease is believed to develop from some combination of several factors, such as genetics, environment, and lifestyle. While non-modifiable risk factors, such as age, sex, and genetics, can play a role in the development and progression of Alzheimer’s disease, several modifiable risk factors can be addressed through lifestyle changes. Potentially modifiable risk factors include diabetes, midlife hypertension, midlife obesity, smoking, physical inactivity, depression, insufficient sleep, hearing loss, and low educational attainment.

Other Neurocognitive Disorders

Similar to how Alzheimer’s can be classified as a neurocognitive disorder, other diseases, illnesses, and injuries can be classified as neurocognitive disorders. Examples of other causes of neurocognitive disorders include the following:

  • Lewy body dementia
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Huntington’s disease
  • Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease
  • Frontotemporal degeneration
  • Hypoxia
  • Infections and immune disorders
  • Repeated traumatic brain injury
  • Metabolic and endocrine problems

The Importance of Early and Frequent Monitoring of Neurocognitive Function

Whether an individual has potential risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease or is a perfectly healthy individual, everyone should be aware of their brain health as they age. Similar to many other progressive diseases and conditions, early detection of Alzheimer’s disease is a critical element in an individual’s ability to receive earlier access to treatments and therapies, and consequently, more effective treatment and improved health outcomes.

Early and frequent monitoring of neurocognitive function to detect small, intra-individual changes is fundamental to detecting Alzheimer’s disease in its earliest stages. The ability to understand unique, minute changes in specific neurocognitive domains of a particular individual provides the framework for the most effective and personalized approach to intervention and treatment.

Altoida’s mission is to accelerate and improve drug development, neurological disease research, and patient care. To learn more about our precision-neurology platform and app-based medical device, contact us!

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