Cognitive Impairment: Irreversible? (Part 1)

July 7, 2024 by
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Cognitive impairment occurs due to abnormal changes in brain cells, leading to a decline in brain functions. Early stages involve memory loss and reduced language abilities, followed by a gradual deterioration in executive and calculation skills. In later stages, various functions completely degrade, leaving patients dependent on others for care. Is there truly no possibility of reversing this condition?


A New Diagnosis Every Three Seconds


The Department of Health conducted a large-scale population health survey between 2014 and 2016. They interviewed over 7,200 households and examined the health of over 2,300 citizens aged 15 to 84. The survey found that half of the participants were overweight or obese. Additionally, nearly 70% were unaware of their cholesterol problems before the survey, with the 55-64 age group having the highest proportion of people with high cholesterol. It is estimated that in the next decade, one in ten people will suffer from cardiovascular disease due to these issues.


As the population ages, degenerative diseases naturally increase. It is estimated that one in ten people over the age of 70 in Hong Kong suffers cognitive impairment, and one in three people over the age of 85 has the condition.


The UK's "World Alzheimer Report 2016" (Al's Disease International) predicts that by 2050, there will be 131.5 million people with cognitive impairment. Unfortunately, this number has already been surpassed. A large international study by CUHK and a British university pointed out that a new case of cognitive impairment is diagnosed every three seconds worldwide. Cognitive impairment is no longer confined to the elderly; it is affecting younger populations, and its prevalence is increasing in affluent areas. Essentially, cognitive impairment can be considered a disease of affluence.


Types and Characteristics of Cognitive Impairment


Cognitive impairment, also known as dementia, is a disease of brain function decline. Major symptoms include continuous slow decline in memory, loss of sense of time and direction, reduced judgement, and loss of communication abilities. Cognitive impairment is generally divided into three main types:


  1. Alzheimer's Disease:
    • Early stage: Short-term memory decline, such as forgetting recently consumed food and misplacing items.
    • Moderate stage: Inability to recall recent events and familiar things.
    • Middle to late stage: Delusions, such as believing that possessions are being stolen, being followed, and food being poisoned.
    • Late stage: Severe loss of intelligence and memory, including self-care ability.
  2. Vascular Cognitive Impairment:
    • Caused by brain damage due to stroke.
  3. Other Causes of Cognitive Impairment:
    • Due to brain trauma, brain infections, nutritional deficiencies, insufficient thyroid secretion, drug intoxication, and depression.

Many organizations and groups promote various activities and training for the elderly, such as playing table tennis, eye-hand coordination training, and playing bridge. The of these activities is to stimulate brain activity and rejuvenate brain functions.


Increasingly, more attention is being paid to dementia because many of us have family members or friends who may be suffering from this condition. People are eager to find methods of prevention and treatment. Many organizations and groups encourage the elderly to engage in various activities and training, such as playing table tennis, eye-hand coordination training, playing bridge, music therapy, concentration training, and playing mahjong. These activities aim to stimulate brain activity and restore brain functions.


Preventing dementia should start with seeking evaluation from professional specialists to assess the degree of degeneration and select the appropriate treatment direction. Current medications, such as cholinesterase inhibitors, can improve symptoms but cannot slow the progression of cognitive impairment. Moreover, these drugs can cause side effects such as muscle cramps, insomnia, frequent urination, general pain, fatigue, dizziness, and nausea.

In the next issue, we will continue to discuss the causes of cognitive.

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