The Road to Rehabilitation Part 3: Guideposts to Recognition: Cognition, Memory & Brain Injury
Joseph Bleiberg, PhD
The dictionary definition of cognition is “the mental process or faculty of knowing, including aspects such as awareness, perception, reasoning, language, memory and judgment.” Thus, cognition includes all of the brain’s mental input and output, from basic activities like using language and arithmetic during a trip to the grocery store, to complex decisions like selecting between two job offers, to the creativity of writing a poem or song, to being able to understand things from another person’s perspective and maintain an emotionally intimate relationship with them.
Part of cognition, memory is much more than simply a passive storage system for knowledge. Memory is a set of active processes that encode information. Memory “packages” the information so that it is easier to remember and can be associated with related items already in memory. Memory also involves storing information, which includes constantly re-arranging what has been stored so that new knowledge is integrated with what is already in storage, and locating and retrieving information as it is needed. For example, cognition assists memory by helping to identify what is important to remember, thereby freeing you of having to recall everything.
A few types of brain injury, such as viral infections deep within the brain, can impair memory without affecting other aspects of cognition. However, in the vast majority of cases, memory impairment is part of a larger cognitive impairment. In fact, many symptoms of brain injury that appear to be memory problems on the surface really are secondary consequences of cognitive deficits. For example, impaired attention and concentration can reduce the amount of information a person takes in, such that even if they have perfect memory, only a portion of the original information will be remembered.
Cognition is the Key to the Way We Think and Act
By Carolyn Rocchio
Cognition is defined as the conscious process of being aware of thoughts or perceptions, including understanding and reasoning. In simpler terms, it is the way we organize our thoughts and make sense of our environment. As a consequence of brain injury, that conscious process may be disrupted. Learning more about this disruption is the first step in developing and implementing treatment to increase, compensate for or remediate functional capabilities.
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