Cognitive Disorders And Memory Loss In People With Cancer
Some cancer patients may experience problems with cognition. Cognition has to do with a person’s mental process of thinking, learning, remembering, being aware of surroundings, and using judgment. Cognitive problems related to cancer also can include memory loss.
What Causes These Cognitive Disorders?
According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), cognitive disorders and delirium may be complications of cancer and cancer treatment, especially in people with advanced cancer. The NCI defines delirium as “a mental state in which a person is confused, disoriented, and not able to think or remember clearly; the person may also be agitated and have hallucinations, and extreme excitement.”
Signs of Cognitive Disorders
People who have cognitive disorders or delirium may fall in and out of consciousness and have problems with the following:
• Muscle control
• Sleeping and waking
Cognitive disorders and delirium may affect both physical health and communication. Patients with cognitive disorders or delirium are more likely to fall, be incontinent (unable to control bladder and/or bowels), and become dehydrated by drinking too little water to maintain health. These patients often require a longer hospital stay than patients without cognitive disorders or delirium.
Delirium usually occurs suddenly, and the patient's symptoms may come and go during the day. This condition can be treated and is often temporary, even in people with advanced illness. In the last 24 to 48 hours of life, however, delirium may be permanent due to problems such as organ failure.
Other Things Placing A Patient At Risk
Other conditions besides having cancer may place a patient at risk for developing delirium. Risk factors include the following:
• Advanced cancer or other serious illness
• Having more than one disease
• Older age
• Previous mental disorder, such as dementia
• Low levels of albumin (protein) in the blood
• Taking medications that affect the mind or behavior
• Taking high doses of pain medication
Early identification of risk factors may help prevent the onset of delirium or may reduce the length of time it takes to correct it.
Seek Medical Help
The effects of cognitive disorders and delirium can be upsetting to the patient’s family and caregivers. Additionally, these conditions can be dangerous to the patient if judgment is affected.
Regular screening of the patient and monitoring of the patient's symptoms can help in the diagnosis of delirium. If you experience any conditions that suggest signs of cognitive disorders or delirium, you or a family member or caregiver should call your doctor or nurse for evaluation.
To learn more about cognitive disorders and delirium and related memory changes, visit the NCI website on this topic.