Bipolar Disorder & Cognitive Impairment

Instructor: Emily Cummins
In this lesson, we'll go over bipolar disorder and and the occurrence of cognitive impairment in patients with bipolar disorder. We'll talk about the relationship between types of bipolar disorder and cognitive impairment.

Bipolar Disorder and Cognitive Impairment

Imagine if your moods changed rapidly, swinging back and forth between elation and sadness. You might find yourself depressed one day and highly excitable, or manic, the next day. These are symptoms of bipolar disorder, which is a mental illness that causes major swings in mood.

There are two main types of bipolar disorder: bipolar I and bipolar II. The major difference between the two is that patients with bipolar I experience more severe episodes of mania, or periods of unusually high energy. Patients experiencing mania often make reckless decisions and engage in risky behavior during a manic episode, and often require hospitalization. During a depressive episode, patients experience feelings of sadness or hopefulness, may eat too much or too little, and may lose interest in activities.

Patients with bipolar II experience what is called hypomania, which is a less severe form of mania. It doesn't disrupt the patient's life as much as full-blown mania, but it does have symptoms like excessive talking, elevated mood, and agitation.

But aside from these major symptoms of bipolar disorder, some people also experience cognitive impairment, or a decline in overall mental functioning. Let's talk about some of the major signs of cognitive impairment.

Cognitive Impairment

Research has found that bipolar patients who experience cognitive impairment have difficulty with executive functioning, which refers to things like attention, memory, and impulse control. Think of this as kind of our overall functioning. It can be compromised in patients with bipolar disorder.

To discover whether or not a patient is experiencing cognitive impairment, clinicians administer a test when a patient is euthymia, or a normal mood state. This means the patient is not currently experiencing an episode of mania or depression.

People with bipolar disorder experiencing cognitive impairment commonly have problems with memory, and have difficulty remembering words or appointments, for example. In particular, some studies have shown that patients have trouble with verbal memory, which is basically memory associated with language. So, in this case a person might have difficulty recalling words or processing language.

Often, attention becomes a problem when a bipolar patient is experiencing cognitive impairment. He or she might have a hard time concentrating and completing tasks.

Generally, research shows that those with more acute, or serious, symptoms of bipolar disorder are more likely to experience more acute cognitive impairment. However, research has also found that patients with bipolar disorder experience cognitive impairment whether they are in a manic, hypomanic, or euthymic state.

It's important to note that the cognitive impairment experienced in bipolar disorder is independent from IQ. In other words, people with bipolar disorder do not generally see a major dip in their IQ but rather in certain aspects of their cognitive functioning.

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