Neurocognitive Disorders: What Are They?

Neurocognitive Disorders: What Are They?

When people think about different types of disorders that can affect the brain, many different things might come to mind. Depression, anxiety, epilepsy, autism spectrum disorder and other types of psychological and neurological disorders, probably top the list; however, there are plenty of other disorders that can have a significant impact on daily living and impact a huge number of people. One of these, in particular, is neurocognitive disorders.

Now, you might be asking yourself “what is a neurocognitive disorder?” If you are, don’t fret, there’s a reason you might not be as familiar with the diagnosis. The diagnosis of neurocognitive disorders was only added to the DSM-V, the most recent iteration of the manual. Prior to that, the closest diagnosis that existed was Delirium, Dementia, Amnestic, and Other Cognitive Disorders. The current diagnosis of neurocognitive disorders covers individuals with cognitive decline across many domains. While this might sound complex, this means that individuals who have issues with attention, executive functioning, like planning and organization, memory and/or language, that causes some significant level of impairment in their daily functioning would meet the qualifications to be diagnosed with a neurocognitive disorder.

There are two different methods that are used to classify neurocognitive disorders. The first way is by establishing the severity of symptoms with one of two diagnoses: major and minor neurocognitive disorders. For individuals that feel there are severe decline and significant impact on daily functioning, a diagnosis of major NCD would be more appropriate, whereas those with a mild decline and modest impairment would most likely be diagnosed with minor NCD. While some health care providers feel that the division between the two disorders are unnecessary and even artificial, most find this division to be helpful in terms of establishing a diagnosis much earlier than it has been previously.

The other classification within these diagnoses are based on the etiology, or the underlying issue, causing the neurocognitive issues. Some examples of these categories include Alzheimer’s NCD, vascular NCD, and frontotemporal NCD. This can be extremely helpful to specify what type of treatment an individual should be receiving. For example, the term dementia is frequently used synonymously with neurocognitive disorders. Using this term, however, might cause some to think that the associated disorders are exclusively Alzheimer’s disease, Lewy body disease or other types of neurodegeneration. These, however, are not the only types of diseases or disorders that can cause neurocognitive disorder to be diagnosed. Parkinson’s disease, vascular disease, HIV, substance abuse, traumatic brain injury and Huntington’s disease are all highly related with the cognitive decline that can be classified as a  neurocognitive disorder. Each of these specific diseases and disorders may all have a different underlying reason for how the cognitive issues came about, and therefore most likely would need different types of treatments to help resolve the symptoms that the individual is facing.

Though this is a new diagnosis, the symptoms that the individuals diagnosed with these disorders are faced with are not new. The prior confusing diagnoses did not fully explain why individuals were having cognitive problems and what these cognitive challenges are. This makes it much more complicated for both those with the diagnosis as well as those who are trying to understand or treat the individual. Hopefully, having a clear diagnosis will allow more people to get treated effectively for these cognitive complaints that come along with so many different diseases and disorders.


Blazer, D. (2013). Neurocognitive Disorders in DSM-5. American Journal of Psychiatry, 170(6), 585-587. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.2013.13020179

Ganguli, M., Blacker, D., Blazer, D. G., Grant, I., Jeste, D. V., Paulsen, J. S., . . . Sachdev, P. S. (2011). Classification of Neurocognitive Disorders in DSM-5: A Work in Progress. The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, 19(3), 205-210. doi:10.1097/jgp.0b013e3182051ab4

Symptoms of Major Neurocognitive Disorder. (2017, August 24). Retrieved from

Symptoms of Minor Neurocognitive Disorder. (2018, February 04). Retrieved from

Julianna Casella

JULIANNA CASELLA (WRITING INTERN) I have always found medicine and neuroscience to be extremely facistinating, and I wanted to find a way to combine these two passions into my future career. Once I took Introduction to Psychology, I knew that this was a field that I wanted to spend the rest of my academic career gaining a deeper understanding about. The more psychology courses I take, the more I fall in love with this field, and want to educate more people about how important it is to take care of your mental health, just like your physical health. After my internship at NYU Langone’s Rusk Center for Rehabilitation Psychology department, I have realized the impact that psychological and neurological disorders can have on an individual, and the importance of educating the general population about these struggles. I hope that my future work as a clinical psychologist, along with my work with The Humanology Project, will help in this goal of educating more people about mental health problems and minimizing stigma about these issues. You can often find me crying over the latest episode of This is Us, playing board games with my friends, or singing show tunes.

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