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Neurocognitive disorders are a group of conditions that frequently lead to impaired mental function. Organic brain syndrome used to be the term to describe these conditions, but neurocognitive disorders is now the more commonly used term.
Neurocognitive disorders most commonly occur in older adults, but they can affect younger people as well. Reduced mental function may include:
These symptoms may be caused by a neurodegenerative condition, such as Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. Neurodegenerative diseases cause the brain and nerves to deteriorate over time, resulting in a gradual loss of neurological function. Neurocognitive disorders can also develop as a result of brain trauma or substance abuse. Healthcare providers can usually determine the underlying cause of neurocognitive disorders based on the reported symptoms and the results of diagnostic tests. The cause and severity of neurocognitive disorders can help healthcare providers determine the best course of treatment.
The long-term outlook for people with neurocognitive disorders depends on the cause. When a neurodegenerative disease causes the neurocognitive disorder, the condition often gets worse over time. In other cases, decreased mental function may only be temporary, so people can expect a full recovery.
The symptoms of neurocognitive disorders can vary depending on the cause. When the condition occurs as a result of a neurodegenerative disease, people may experience:
Other symptoms that may occur in people with neurocognitive disorders include:
The most common cause of neurocognitive disorders is a neurodegenerative disease. Neurodegenerative diseases that can lead to the development of neurocognitive disorders include:
In people under age 60, however, neurocognitive disorders are more likely to occur after an injury or infection. Nondegenerative conditions that may cause neurocognitive disorders include:
Your risk of developing neurocognitive disorders partly depends on your lifestyle and daily habits. Working in an environment with exposure to heavy metals can greatly increase your risk for neurocognitive disorders. Heavy metals, such as lead and mercury, can damage the nervous system over time. This means that frequent exposure to these metals puts you at an increased risk for decreased mental function.
You’re also more likely to develop neurocognitive disorders if you:
Neurocognitive disorders aren’t caused by a mental disorder. However, many of the symptoms of neurocognitive disorders are similar to those of certain mental disorders, including schizophrenia, depression, and psychosis. To ensure an accurate diagnosis, healthcare providers will perform various diagnostic tests that can differentiate symptoms of neurocognitive disorders from those of a mental disorder. These tests often include:
Treatment for neurocognitive disorders varies depending on the underlying cause. Certain conditions may only require rest and medication. Neurodegenerative diseases may require different types of therapy.
Treatments for neurocognitive disorders may include:
The long-term outlook for people with neurocognitive disorders depends on the type of neurocognitive disorder. Neurocognitive disorders such as dementia or Alzheimer’s present a challenging outlook. This is because there is no cure for those conditions and mental function steadily gets worse over time.
However, the outlook for people with neurocognitive disorders, such as a concussion or infection, is generally good because these are temporary and curable conditions. In these cases, people can usually expect to make a full recovery.
Written by: Lydia Krause
Medically reviewed on: Jan 28, 2016: Timothy J. Legg PhD, PMHNP-BC
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