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Cognitive Impairment - What You Need to Know

This section looks at what cognitive impairment is and how you can identify it. The main points are that:

  • Cognitive impairment is a term used to recognise a broad range of disorders that affect cognitive functioning, including intellectual disability, acquired brain injury and fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.
  • People with cognitive impairment experience difficulties with a range of adaptive behaviours, including social, conceptual and practical skills they've learned in order to function in their everyday lives.
  • Workers in drug and alcohol organisations are most likely to come into contact with people who have a mild impairment and who are generally able to live relatively independently but require some supports, particularly if problems arise.
  • Cognitive impairment can often be hidden; it's likely that you already work with people who have an undetected cognitive impairment.

The three specific types of cognitive impairment covered in this chapter are intellectual disability, acquired brain injury and fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. However, the practical strategies covered in Practice Tips for Workers and Making Your Service Complex Needs Capable can be broadly applied to other areas of complex need, not just cognitive impairment.

What you need to know

Recognising cognitive impairment

There are several domains of cognitive functioning, such as attention and memory, and each of these can be impaired.

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Intellectual disability

You're most likely to come into contact with people with borderline or mild intellectual disability. Most people with such a disability are able to learn the many skills necessary to live in the community relatively independently.

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Acquired brain injury

Acquired brain injury refers to an injury to the brain resulting in deterioration in functioning. It can result from traumatic causes such as car accidents or from non-traumatic causes such as alcohol-related brain injury.

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Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) is an umbrella term used to describe a range of conditions and harms which have emerged as a result of prenatal alcohol consumption. You may be familiar with FASD when considering infant and maternal health, but there's less awareness of adolescents and adults with FASD.

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