Cognitive disorders: what they are and what are their types

The human mind can fail in different ways, and the alterations that affect cognition are particularly serious.

This article explains what a cognitive disorder is, Which refers to an alteration in our normal brain function. We’ll also look at a section to understand what cognitive functions are, understand why these are so important when explaining the topic of the article, and add a classification of the main types of cognitive impairment.

    What is a cognitive disorder?

    It’s a cognitive disorder a type of mental disorder that centrally affects our cognitive abilities, Those that allow us to carry out the tasks that we have to accomplish on a daily basis. It is an alteration that affects the mind at different levels related to forecasting, planning and finding solutions to problems.

    Cognitive mental disorder is considered to be a psychological disorder caused by a problem in the normal functioning of basic cognitive functions. Alterations in these basic cognitive functions lead to problems in other more complex cognitive functions, as we will see below.

    cognitive functions

    To better understand the alterations or dysfunctions that occur in cognitive disorders, it is necessary to recognize the cognitive functions that may be involved. These are all those mental processes that allow us to perform tasks.

    Below, we will review the main basic brain functions and the main complex brain functions involved in dementia.

    Basic or primary cognitive functions

    For our survival, we had to learn to perceive, select, process, manage and work on relevant information. The basic functions allow us

    1. Attention

    This feature allows the person to focus on relevant information in a particular context or problem to be solved. The stimuli that occur around us are endless, and processing of all available information is not possible it is useless.

    2. Perception

    It is through our senses that information reaches us. Perception is the function that makes internal and external stimuli work, that is, the one that channels and makes us aware of all kinds of information that occurs in our body and in our environment.

    3. Memory

    This function allows you to organize the information that has been processed and learned. There are many types of memoryBut we can generally say that memory sorts, archives and retrieves all kinds of data so that we can work with it.

      4. Reasoning

      It is logical responsible function, with implications for executive functions as important as problem-solving ability or language.

      Complex or superior cognitive functions

      Basic functions above derive from others more complex than they connect different areas of the brain to their success. Below we see the most notable.

      1. Orientation

      Orientation has different axes of reference, because it is a cognitive function that it takes into account space, time, The relationship to oneself and the relationship to others.

      2. Language

      Language is the skill that enables an individual interpret logical and symbolic systems.

      3. Practical skills

      It is those abilities that come with effective organization, planning and execution. This neurological process is what allows you to perform physical actions of all kinds, How to dress or draw.

      4. Executive functions

      In the event of damage to executive functions there are great disturbances in the intentionality of the people, As this function monitors all lower level cognitive functions as above.

        5. Ability to solve problems

        It is actually a set of intelligences or abilities that allow you to solve complex problems of all kinds.

        Types of cognitive impairment

        Cognitive functions they are essential to be able to lead a life without dysfunctions when performing daily tasks.

        So, after looking at the main primary and secondary cognitive functions, it will be much easier for us to understand the different types of cognitive impairment that we will present below.

        1. Direct cognitive impairment

        We classify as direct cognitive disorders those which, by their nature, have a direct impact on the cognitive functions that we have explained above.


        Amnesia is a term that refers to the partial or total loss of memory. It very specifically affects this basic brain function, prevent the individual from retrieving or retaining information that he had already stored in his brain.

        These processes of managing this information are given by complex brain mechanisms such as encoding, storage and evocation.


          When cognitive deficits occur, as in dementia, any of the brain functions can be affected. It highlights the impact of dementia in memory, language, attention, control or inhibition of behavior, Praxis and executive functions or problem-solving ability.

          Delirium or acute delirium

          They are all these organic disorders, that is, caused by a loss or an abnormality of the structure, the function of the brain tissue, or both affected at the same time.

          In this assignment, alterations can occur in the level of consciousness and complex cognitive functions. it is characterized by its seriousness and its very general affections, But it is also reversible.

          For example, if the delirium occurs due to a brain tumor putting pressure on the brain tissue and it is successfully extracted without damaging the structure, the person returns to their normal state.

          2. Anxiety disorders

          In anxiety disorders, there is a fear of a future threat. Our mind gives an emotional alteration as an anticipatory response, Which can even lead to physical symptoms such as tachycardia or tremors.

          The behaviors are generally avoidant and can occur continuously or episodically. There are a good variety of them affecting our normal cognitive activity. Below we will see the most representative.


          Phobia is a psychological disorder characterized by a very intense and unjustified fear of animals, objects or specific situations.

          This is a type of disorder that can lead to experiences of extreme anxiety or panic in the person who suffers from it. There are different, and depending on the object of fear, The person’s life can be more or less affected.

          For example, people with social phobia can be seriously affected by their normal way of working in social situations such as parties or events.

          Generalized anxiety disorder

          In this type of disorder, generalized worry and anxiety for any daily occurrence is very common. People who suffer from it they are constantly worried about whether things will go wrong.

          Restlessness, difficulty concentrating, muscle tension, sleep disturbances, irritability and fatigue are common manifestations associated with this disorder. Like other cognitive disorders, cognitive functions are subordinate to the mental state of the patient.

          Post-traumatic stress disorder

          Extreme events that may have been experienced can trigger post-traumatic stress. A war, a rape, a hurricane, a bombardment or a serious traffic accident can cause this type of mental disability.

          this disorder it makes the person stressed and afraid to relive what has happened to them. Memories of the experience and difficulty sleeping, feelings of loneliness and guilt, worry or sadness, even outbursts of anger appear, affecting the individual but also those around him.

          4. Psychotic disorders

          These types of disorders cause abnormal ideas and perceptions, causing the person to lose touch with reality. Delusions and hallucinations are the main symptoms.

          Illusions are nothing more than false beliefs that maximize their impact on personal life, such as that the neighborhood is against it or that someone is sending secret messages to the newspaper. Hallucinations are false perceptions of reality, the person seems to hear, hear or see something that is not there.


          Schizophrenia is a type of psychotic disorder characterized by a loss of judgment of reality accompanied by a great disorganization of the personality.

          Both positive and negative symptoms appear in schizophrenia. The former include delusions, hallucinations, and disturbances in thought, while the negatives affect lack of motivation, emotion or impairment of it, and difficulty speaking.

          In addition, impaired neurocognitive capacity problems occur in this cognitive disorder. Basic functions such as memory, attention, problem solving or social control are severely affected.

            Delusional disorders or paranoid psychosis

            This psychotic disorder it is characterized by the delusions that the person has. These are not as strange as in other disorders in case there is no other notable psychopathology.

            People who have it do not meet the criteria for schizophrenia and do not have hallucinations, or at least notoriously, as some may seem related to the topic of delirium.

            Who suffers from delusional disorder enjoys a sufficiently functional life, Shows only strange behaviors on subjects directly related to the delusional idea. Unfortunately, the patient’s life can be increasingly affected by the weight and influence of his beliefs on other aspects of his mental life.

            3. Mood disorders

            These cognitive disorders greatly affect the person who suffers from them so that they cannot lead a normal life when they see their mood greatly altered. Depression and bipolar disorder are presented as the most representative disorders of this type of disorder.


            Depression in a mental illness characterized by a very acute alteration of the state where pathological sadness is the main symptom. This feeling is more intense and lasting than we would consider normal, and it can cause great anxiety. All of this can appear without just cause.

            It is a cognitive disorder because it produces a decrease in the ability to concentrate and think, and can encourage negative ideas such as suicide. It can also lead to isolation, restlessness, lack of communication and even aggressive behavior (about yourself or others).

            bipolar disorder

            This disease is characterized by the passage from episodes with euphoric state to episodes with depressive state. Events in the patient’s life are not the cause of these behavioral changes.

            People with bipolar disorder can also present with psychotic symptoms, with varying degrees of severity. The most severe degrees of euphoria and depression can occur with great speed and intensity, making it very difficult for the individual to lead a normal life.

            Bibliographical references:

            • Butcher, JN, Mineka, S. and Hooley, JM (2007). Clinical Psychology (12th ed.). Madrid: Pearson.
            • Castelfranchi C., Mancini F. and Miceli M. (2002). Fundamentals of clinical cognitivism. Turin: Bollati Boringhieri.
            • Simpson, JR (2014). DSM-5 and neurocognitive disorders. Jam. Acad. Psychiatry Act, 42 (2), 159-64.
            • Guerrero, A. (2008). The science of problem-based behavioral medicine. New York: Springer. 367–79.
            • Sarason, IG and Sarason, BR (2006). Abnormal Psychology: The Problem of Maladaptive Behavior (11th ed.). Madrid: Prentice-Hall.

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