What Is Cognition? How Is It Affected by Dementia?

Cognition. John Lund Blend Images/ Getty Images

Definition of Cognition

The word "cognition" is used to describe mental processes in the brain. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, it includes "thinking, understanding, learning and memory" (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/cognition).

While the most common word associated with cognition may be memory, cognitive abilities can also include judgment, decision-making, planning,and organizing (executive functioning),  concentration/attention, communication, orientation and visuospatial ability.

How Is Cognition Evaluated?

A person's cognition can be tested in several different ways, but one of the more well-known ways- especially in school-age children- is through the use of an intelligence quotient (IQ) test. These tests measure a person's problem-solving ability and ability to think and learn. 

Another way cognition is evaluated is through the use of multiple screening tests. These tests are especially helpful when physicians, psychologists, or researchers are attempting to determine how well someone's brain is working, and if this functioning is improving or declining over time. Cognitive screening tests are frequently used in research studies to evaluate if an intervention (such as physical exercise) is associated with improved, stable or declined cognition. 

Some frequently used tests that measure cognition include:

How Is Cognition Affected by Dementia?

Dementia is a condition that affects multiple areas including cognition, behavior, emotions and physical ability. In dementia, a decline in cognition is generally considered irreversible, while there are other causes of cognitive decline that can sometimes be reversed if diagnosed and treated.

Cognitive decline in dementia typically includes memory, communication, orientation, decision-making ability and judgment.

Other Terms Associated with Cognition


Alzheimer's Society. What Is Dementia? Accessed July 30, 2015. http://www.alzheimers.org.uk/site/scripts/documents_info.php?documentID=106

Delaware Valley Geriatric Education Center. When the Mind Falters: Cognitive Losses in Dementia. Accessed July 30, 2015. http://www.med.upenn.edu/gec/user_documents/4_Dementia_InstructorSlidesWithNotes-07.pdf

Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Cognition. Accessed July 30, 2015. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/cognition

North Carolina Neurobehavioral Associates, PLLC. Cognitive Evaluation. Accessed July 30, 2015. http://www.ncnba.com/site/services/evaluation/cognitive-evaluation/

US National Library of Medicine. Dementia. Accessed July 30, 2015.


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