Source: Positively Demented; Public Domain: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Nellie_Bly-Mad-House-08.png
Many of the other mental disorders that we're looking at throughout this unit focus on the external symptoms that a person might have. For example, the physical symptoms, like nervousness. Or the abnormal behaviours that a person has when they have, say, mania, and the things that they do when they go out and perform outrageously. Or the compulsions they have under OCD.
These are all symptomatic of some sort of internal dysfunction in the brain, and in the mental processes, specifically. A lot of times they result from psychological damage.
However, this lesson is going to focus more on those internal problems that create those mental disorders. In other words, we're talking about cognitive disorders here, which is when a person has a decreased level of cognitive function. So they might have some kind of impairment in either their memory, their perception, or their problem solving, as a result.
While these are disorders of mental processes-- those internal things that are happening-- they usually have specific physical causes to them. In other words, there what we call organic mental disorders. Which is to say, they are mental disorders that are either inherited-- they have some genetic basis-- or they are the result of brain injury, or disease. This is as opposed to other disorders that result from that psychological trauma, like the traumatic childhood, or very stressful event, like war or natural disasters.
So we're talking about the specific biological or organic causes for these types of disorders.
There are three types of cognitive disorders to look at.
The first one is what we call delirium. Delirium is a state of confusion, where a person has less awareness of their environment, or the situation that's around them. And also they have trouble processing, or gaining new information about that environment. Oftentimes, a person who's in a state of delirium acts in a very agitated, or aggressive, way. And this is sometimes. They can also have hallucinations. That's something that might occur, as well.
In other words, think about in a movie. When a person wakes up, let's say in a hospital bed, and doesn't know where they are. That kind of behavior is indicative of delirium. Now usually, delirium last for a period of a few hours, but it can also last for weeks, or even months.
There are many different causes that might lead to a state of delirium. Things like drug or alcohol use, infections from other parts of their bodies, or other diseases, as well as malnutrition. So if a person isn't receiving enough physical nutrition, or the things that they need to survive, it might lead to a state of delirium.
Similarly, dementia is a global loss of cognitive ability. In other words, it affects primarily their memory, but it can also affect their attention, their language, and their problem solving. Dementia occurs over an extended period of time. It has to occur for at least six months to be considered dementia. Otherwise, if it's anything shorter, than we would call it delirium.
So you see how these two relate to each other. One is more short term, and one is more long term.
An example of dementia is Alzheimer's disease, which is a form of cognitive dementia that mostly occurs in people over the age of 65. You'll see that generally, these dementias are associated with older people. And they can often result from natural degeneration, or processes, over a person's life. Or they might be from specific diseases, like Alzheimer's
Alzheimer's leads to a loss, first, of their long-term memory. It might be specific events, and eventually lead to larger amounts of their long-term memory. It also leads to a person becoming more moody and irritable, often as a result of this memory loss. Eventually the person can lose their language, and their body functions, as well. And this will ultimately cause the person's death, because of this loss of bodily functions.
Because lots of types of dementia, like Alzheimer's, are natural-- they're caused by brain degeneration over time-- most cases are irreversible. So treatments for things like Alzheimer's are aimed at slowing the process, or the progress, of this disease, as opposed to preventing or curing it altogether. Which is, unfortunately, something that's beyond our current medical ability.
Finally, another type of cognitive disorder is amnesia, which is when a person has trouble with their long-term memories. Either a person might have trouble creating new memories, which is what we call anterograde amnesia, or they might have trouble keeping, or recalling, previously held memories, which we call retrograde amnesia.
Generally, amnesia is caused by damage to parts of the brain that are related to memory. For example, the hippocampus is a common place that, when damaged, leads to amnesia. And this damage can also come from concussions or brain injury, as well as things like alcoholism. Or it can come from specific psychological events, like PTSD, or post traumatic stress disorder.
Treatment for all of these different types of cognitive disorders can vary according to the specific types-- for example, the treatment for delirium is going to be different from the treatment for amnesia, oftentimes-- as well as the causes, since there are multiple causes within each of these, as well. So there might be amnesia caused by trauma versus dementia, which is caused by the natural degradation of a person's brain.
But generally, the treatment for any of these is medical in nature. Which is to say, we're either treating an injury, providing nutrition to a person, or preventing harmful processing from occurring. For example, if one of these is occurring from drug use, they might try to prevent a person, or to get them off of, the addiction for their drugs.