Types of Neurocognitive Disorders

Everyone has moments of forgetfulness, confusion, or a lapse in the ability to reason or solve a problem. Stress and the busyness of life clog our cognitive functioning. There are others, however, that experience a deeper level of cognitive dysfunction. They have neurocognitive disorders when nerve cells are impaired, making thinking, reasoning, and decision-making more difficult.

In this article, we’re taking a closer look at the various types of neurocognitive disorders, diagnosis, and neurocognitive disorder treatment.

Types of Neurocognitive Disorders

Neurocognitive disorders do not affect everyone the same, with symptoms of mental decline ranging from mild to major. Underlying medical conditions are the root cause and can occur in all age groups, although many are senior citizens or the elderly.

Although neurocognitive disorders are not psychiatric, they are in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders 5 (DSM V). In previous years, neurocognitive disorders were “dementia,” an umbrella title for diseases that impair cognition. The damaged nerve cells and the part of the brain where the damage occurs will determine symptoms and severity of impairment.

Various neurocognitive disorders apply classification according to the medical condition at the root of the problem. For example, someone may have a neurocognitive disorder due to Alzheimer’s disease, which is the most common.

Degenerative Disorders

The most common neurocognitive disorder, Alzheimer’s disease, affects 5.5 million Americans, with 200,000 under 65. Symptoms of Alzheimer’s include memory loss and mental confusion. Some also experience disorientation, agitation, wandering, mood swings, depression, loss of appetite, and general discontent.

Parkinson’s disease is a neurological problem that affects movement first due to a significant drop in producing dopamine.

Huntington’s disease is hereditary and affects both movements and emotions. In the early stages, a person may have depression, hallucinations, and poor coordination. As it progresses, a significant decline in cognitive abilities occurs.

Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease that produces inflammation that attacks the brain and central nervous system.

Other degenerative disorders that lead to neurocognitive disorders include pick disease, Lewy body disease, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, and normal pressure hydrocephalus.

Drug and Alcohol Conditions

Drug and alcohol misuse can lead to substance use disorders, which can cause damage to every part of the body, such as a decline in cognitive abilities, especially during withdrawal from alcohol.

Detoxing from alcohol and benzodiazepines without medical supervision can be dangerous. Aside from the physical symptoms, someone can also have seizures, hallucinations, agitation, and severe confusion. Those with drug and alcohol use disorders are often deficient in nutrients like vitamin B1 or thiamine. A deficiency in this is called Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, and it is associated with neurocognitive disorders.

Drugs and alcohol traumatize the brain, altering its structure. Any brain injury can lead to cognitive dysfunction.

Brain Injury or Trauma

Concussions cause brain traumas that impair cognition. They happen when the head is hit hard by an object. Depending on what part of the brain is traumatized, different symptoms can arise. Some may have headaches, memory loss, confusion, and complete changes in thinking.

Other brain injuries include bleeding inside the brain, bleeding around the outside of the brain, and blood clots inside the skull.

Heart Disorders

A person who has multiple strokes can be affected cognitively because blood flow to the brain temporarily stops. When blood flow stops, the brain cannot get the oxygen and nutrients it needs to function. Heart infections cause inflammation in the lining, muscles, tissues, and other areas surrounding the heart. Examples are endocarditis and myocarditis.

Fatigue, aches and pains, shortness of breath, and swelling of the feet and legs are symptoms of a heart-related disorder that could affect cognition.

Other infections can lead to neural changes.


Every part of the body can become infected, even the brain, causing impaired functioning. Encephalitis occurs mainly in the very young or elderly who contract it through numerous viruses, autoimmune diseases, Lyme disease, parasites, and allergic reactions to vaccines.

Syphilis, mad cow disease, meningitis, and blood poisoning are other infections connected to cognitive decline.

Metabolic and Other Conditions

Those with thyroid disorders, both hypothyroidism, and hyperthyroidism, may experience brain and nervous system decline. The thyroid is one of the most crucial hormone-producing organs necessary for good health.

In addition, if a person does not get sufficient oxygen intake, they can develop hypoxia, which can lead to neurocognitive disorders. Chronic kidney or liver diseases put a person at risk also.

If you have any of the conditions listed here or are experiencing symptoms of these conditions, reach out for help today. Start by calling the local mental health center. A board-certified psychiatrist can evaluate your symptoms and make treatment recommendations. They will use specific diagnostic criteria.

Diagnosis of Neurocognitive Disorders

Doctors will use the criteria defined in the DSM V, including:

  • There is evidence of a significant cognitive decline in learning, memory, language, attention, perceptual-motor skills, and social cognition.
  • Cognitive decline interferes with the ability to function and requires help completing tasks.
  • Cognitive declines are not exclusive to delirium.
  • Cognitive decline is not related to another mental health disorder

A treatment plan will be developed, with your input, if a diagnosis is positive for a neurocognitive disorder.

Treatment for Neurocognitive Disorders

Your doctor will first treat any underlying conditions. For example, if you have an infection, you may be given antibiotics. If you are withdrawing from alcohol or drugs, treatment may include medicine that reduces symptoms. If you have depression or anxiety, your psychiatrist can prescribe antidepressants and antianxiety medications.

Treating symptoms is common practice in detoxification programs. If you have headaches, your doctor can prescribe medicine. If your symptoms represent a mental illness, a doctor may prescribe medication, and you can work with a licensed therapist using cognitive behavioral therapy. Alternative and holistic therapies are an important part of treatment. Pairing music and art therapy, yoga, and meditation with traditional treatments benefit the whole body.

There may not be a cure for neurocognitive disorders right now. Still, symptoms can significantly improve with a combination of medical, mental health, or substance use treatments combined with holistic and alternative therapies. Give us a call to discuss symptoms affecting you or someone you love.