What is cognitive impairment? Cognitive impairment occurs when problems with thought processes occur. It can include loss of higher reasoning, forgetfulness, learning disabilities, concentration difficulties, decreased intelligence, and other reductions in mental functions. Cognitive impairment may be present at birth or can occur at any point in a person’s lifespan. Some early causes of cognitive impairment include chromosome abnormalities and genetic syndromes, malnutrition, prenatal drug exposure, poisoning due to lead or other heavy metals, hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), neonatal jaundice (high bilirubin levels developing after birth), hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid), complications of prematurity, trauma or child abuse such as shaken baby syndrome, or oxygen deprivation in the womb or during or after birth. Cognitive impairment that develops in childhood or adolescence can result from many conditions. Examples include side effects of cancer therapy, malnutrition, heavy metal poisoning, autism (abnormal development of communication and social skills), metabolic conditions, and systemic lupus erythematosus (disorder in which the body attacks its own healthy cells and tissues). With age, other conditions such as stroke, dementia, delirium, brain tumors, chronic alcohol use or abuse, substance abuse, some vitamin deficiencies, and some chronic diseases may cause cognitive impairment. Head injury and infection of the brain or of the covering of the brain and spinal cord (meninges) can cause cognitive impairment at any age. In some cases, cognitive impairment may be reversible if the underlying cause is identified and treated. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) for the sudden onset of cognitive impairment, especially if it is accompanied by high fever (higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit), neck stiffness or rigidity, rash, head injury, changes in level of consciousness or alertness, flushing or dry skin, severe nausea and vomiting, fruity breath, or other symptoms that cause you concern. Seek prompt medical care for new onset of cognitive impairment or if existing impairment worsens.