With increased awareness surrounding Alzheimer’s disease that primarily stems from recent advancements in Alzheimer’s disease diagnostics and treatments, patients 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 patients 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 form of dementia; similar to how Alzheimer’s causes Alzheimer’s-related dementia, Alzheimer’s can cause neurocognitive disorders.
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 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.
Symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease can vary from patient to patient, 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 patient lies on the disease continuum, as the pathology of Alzheimer’s can affect each patient uniquely.
Cognitive impairments may include changes in:
Functional impairments may include changes in:
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.
Alzheimer’s disease is believed to develop from a 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.
Similar to how Alzheimer’s can cause neurocognitive disorders, other diseases, illnesses, and injuries can cause neurocognitive disorders. Examples of other causes of neurocognitive disorders include the following:
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 a patient’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.
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