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Subjective Cognitive Impairment

Instructor: Gaines Arnold
In this lesson, we'll look at the definitions of subjective and cognitive impairment, discuss subjective cognitive impairment, and describe how it is recognized by doctors and why it should be taken seriously.

Why Do You Forget to Take Your Meds?

Like many of his friends, Frank had to start taking a variety of medications starting around age 60. He was always faithful to take them, he was aware of the benefits, but sometimes he just forgot. He would realize at about two in the afternoon that he had not taken his morning meds and it would worry him. He thought about how many times he forgot something, like a friend's name or where he had last seen his car keys, and he started to worry that he may be getting Alzheimer's disease, a progressive disease that causes memory loss, confusion, emotional instability and affects other important mental functions.

Frank called his doctor's office for an appointment and told them about his concerns. His doctor looked at his family history (his grandfather and a cousin had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's) and then asked Frank about his symptoms. When she was done, his doctor scheduled him for a battery of cognitive tests that would help determine whether he was experiencing cognitive decline or not. Of course, Frank worried about the outcome, so he started preparing his family for the worst.

What is Subjective Cognitive Impairment (SCI)?

When people reach a certain age (60 and older), they often start to pay more attention to their issues with memory. Even though a person may have been forgetting little things for a long time, this is an age when people are justified thinking more about dementia and, especially, Alzheimer's. Sometimes claims of memory loss cannot be verified by cognitive testing which is called subjective cognitive impairment (SCI) or subjective memory disorder.

Frank was concerned, as are many other people, that he was going through the beginning stages of dementia, but the doctor could find nothing wrong. But, the doctor knew that he could not just dismiss Frank's symptoms. Although subjective cognitive impairment may seem like a non-diagnosis (meaning that the problem is actually not a problem just a normal function of aging), it can actually tell doctors that there is something wrong. Ignoring SCI can also cause other problems for the patient. Frank's doctor knew that further testing was needed to reach a diagnosis.

What is the Danger of ignoring SCI?

On the physical side, SCI is very similar to mild cognitive impairment (MCI). The difference is that cognitive testing does show cognitive decline in someone with MCI. However, testing can be wrong. When testing does not reveal a problem, it is always a good idea to undergo further testing to ensure the diagnosis.

But, there are other reasons that a SCI diagnosis should be taken seriously.

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