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Cognitive Impairment

How to spot the signs of serious cognitive impairment

What are the symptoms of cognitive impairment?

How many times have you forgotten an important date, had to look up your own phone number or had a word on the tip of your tongue but struggled to find it?  We all joke about getting older and being forgetful, but when is it time to become concerned?

What’s cognitive impairment?

Cognitive impairment is the term used when one’s ability to think clearly, problem solve, communicate and remember, falls below the normal level.  This change can be temporary or permanent, gradual or rapid.  Cognitive impairment is somewhat normal within the elderly population due to age related decline, but it can be experienced by anyone at any age.

How is cognitive impairment graded?

Mild cognitive impairment can impact people in several inconvenient ways such as forgetfulness or being slower than others to understand concepts or jokes.  Difficulty with concentration, multi-tasking, learning new skills and remembering can present as mild cognitive impairment.

Moderate cognitive impairment can stop people from completing tasks such as preparing meals and driving a car, due to slower information processing, impaired planning and inability to follow instructions.  Difficulty problem solving, making decisions and perception of distance and danger can arise at this level.

Severe cognitive impairment will stop people from being able to complete activities of daily living such as showering, eating, toileting and even sleeping.

What causes cognitive impairment?

People can be born with cognitive impairment or develop it at some stage in their life. Cognitive impairment can occur due to many reasons, most common causes include (but are not limited to):

Who is at highest risk of cognitive impairment?

Dementia is the leading progressive cognitive impairment in Australia and primary cause of disability in people over 65, with statistics suggesting rates of dementia are nearly 1 in 10 people.  Dementia is irreversible, and typically impacts behaviour, memory and comprehension.  People with dementia often experience confusion, personality changes, reduced concentration and loss of ability to perform everyday tasks independently.

Dementia is more likely to occur in the later stages of Parkinson’s Disease.

How can Occupational Therapists help someone with Cognitive Impairment?

Occupational Therapists use a range of evidence-based treatment approaches to monitor cognitive impairment and provide a range of treatments to help improve safety and function for a person with cognitive impairment.  These include:

  • Individual assessment of functional cognition, memory and problem solving in everyday tasks
  • Home environment safety review to minimise risk of injury from minor modifications such as grab rails, ramps or stove isolation switches to major modifications to bathrooms or ramps 
  • Equipment recommendations to help increase independence at home and in the community
  • Tailored therapy plans to address cognitive deficit and work towards client goals
  • Education to family and carers on ways to support someone with cognitive impairment
  • Identifying alternative approaches to tasks, to keep people doing what they love
  • Develop routines to aid with daily function

How can Physiotherapists help someone with Cognitive impairment?

Cognitive impairment stems from dysfunction in the brain, which is the control centre for our body and its movements.  An experienced Physiotherapist can provide a tailored exercise program to provide several benefits when working with people with cognitive impairment, including:

  • Improved control over movements, coordination and balance to aid walking
  • Reduced risk of falling and improved transfers when sitting and standing
  • Assessment for mobility aids to increase mobility
  • Parkinson’s specific exercise programs to aid with symptoms of freezing and tremor

Need to know more?

Our experienced multidisciplinary Allied Health team is here to help improve safety and function for a person with cognitive impairment.  Contact us today to discuss your needs via email at or you can call us on 1300 729 190 and we will be happy to help!


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