Cognition and the Benefits of Cognitive Testing
By Kevin Holman, Occupational Therapist
What is cognition? Cognition is defined as “the mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses.” Some examples of cognitive processes include but are not limited to:
- Information processing
- Higher reasoning skills (e.g., decision-making, problem-solving, organization, etc.)
- Safety awareness
When we experience pain, a headache, or a blow of cold air from the freezer, we tend to notice these things right away! Cognition, on the other hand, can be quite subtle – we often take it for granted and not really need to “think about our thinking.” It really is incredible what the brain can do without us even knowing! But just like other aspects of our health, such as diet, fitness, and psychological wellbeing, taking care of how we think is very important.
As we age, it is fairly normal to receive testing to screen for any conditions that can cause cognitive impairments, such as dementia. That being said, people of any age can experience challenges and/or a condition that may impact cognitive function. There are many examples of conditions that can impact cognitive function, such as experiencing a concussion, stroke, prolonged periods of low mood, age-related factors, long-term effects from alcohol or drugs, side effects from chemotherapy (“chemo brain”), just to name a few. Many times, our cognitive symptoms can resolve naturally over time and/or with some focused treatment.
Another important point is that while there are a number of direct influencers to cognition. Sometimes our ability to think is impacted by secondary factors such as poor sleep quality, dietary issues, persistent pain or anxiety, that can reduce our overall capacity and, therefore, have less in the tank to attend to more cognitively demanding tasks such as writing an essay, focusing on the road when driving, or following a group conversation at dinner.
On the other hand, many people can simply be curious about their cognitive health and want to learn ways to optimize our cognitive function. Many people such as athletes, executives, and first-responders can benefit from completing cognitive testing to help identify areas of strength and areas of challenges that they wish to work on to optimize their brain health and maximize efficiency in their work.
Some reasons for considering a cognitive test:
- Experiencing difficulties remembering what you talked about with a family member an hour ago
- Experiencing difficulties remaining attentive when reading a book or watching a television show
- Difficulties with organization, planning, or making decisions
- Relying more often on external memory aids (e.g., notebooks, calendars, alarms)
- Receiving reports from friends and family that they are concerned about your cognition
- You want to learn more about your cognition
- You want to optimize your cognitive health
I have received cognitive testing myself, and like many others, felt quite nervous and vulnerable about doing it the first time. I cannot speak for others, but I was worried I was going to find out I was “dumb” or “stupid” from these tests. I want to emphasize: cognitive tests are not meant to be IQ tests. The reality is, everyone has areas of strength and areas of challenge when it comes to their cognitive function. You can be a total genius and still misplace your keys every day. Maybe you process information best when listening to a podcast rather than reading a book. Another point is that cognition can be a moving target – depending on how you slept the night before can have a big impact on how you perform the next day as an example.
At the Surrey Neuroplasticity Clinic, we hope that doing a cognitive assessment with us would be a rewarding and enlightening experience for you. We have a team of occupational therapists skilled in providing cognitive assessments – from a simple 45-minute screen to comprehensive multi-day testing. From there, we can review the findings and provide recommendations to you, your family, your family doctor, and anyone else involved in your care. Depending on your performance and goals, we can look at a variety of options, including but not limited to take-home cognitive strategies, education on lifestyle changes, work-related cognitive training, intensive cognitive rehabilitation, brain and body performance optimization, and/or dedicated one-to-one occupational therapy services as needed. Sometimes, it may just be that you are curious about your cognitive health and simply want to learn more as you would about other aspects of your health.
If what you have read resonates with you, reach out to us to learn more about what we do! 😊