pencil drawing of a woman with an oxygen tube has a fuzzy, foggy head, where half of her face is blurring and fading away in a cloud of smoke

Mild Cognitive Impairment and COPD

Cognition is about learning, memory, and thinking. The basis of cognition is about how we use language and store memories. It is about how we learn and what we learn, covering thinking, reasoning, recognizing, and categorizing. It is how we see our environment and how we adapt to it. Doctors begin the study of cognition in early childhood and continue throughout adulthood and into our senior population.

Organization becomes paramount

As we become adults, somewhere along the line we began to ask ourselves, “where did I put that thing?” or, my all-time favorite, “what was I going to say?” These incidents begin happening around age 40ish. We brush it off as being related to being too busy with too much on our minds to worry about. It is about this time in our lives that we start to become list makers. It helps us gain some control to remember everything that is going on in our minds. Organization of your home, work, and your mind becomes paramount.

When this begins to happen with an increased frequency, we start to wonder if we have a problem. Do we have early-onset Alzheimer’s disease or is some of this normal? Most of us do not follow up with a doctor until some major events happen like getting lost and not knowing how to get home.

COPD and mild cognitive impairment

Doctors believe that there is increasing evidence that it is more likely that COPD produces some mild cognitive impairment. This impairment is much different than the impairment of Alzheimer’s, but compared to healthy control groups, those with COPD had more mild cognitive impairment (MCI). These studies also showed that the longer you had COPD the great your chances were of having a cognitive decline. The good news is that MCI does not mean that we will develop dementia.1

Most of us have likely noticed the difference after having a major exacerbation. I surely did. My doctors explained to me that I had several minutes without oxygen to my brain several times when I had a sudden cardiac arrest. Having had 3 major arrests, the effects were noticeable. Sometimes the onset is more subtle and begins slower, making it harder to notice, until someone points it out to you. Having comorbidities with COPD such as heart disease or diabetes means a greater risk of MCI.

What can I do about it?

Since there is no cure for mild cognitive impairment (MCI), we must be more aware of our risk and start to work on it. So, let us talk about how we will do that!

Exercise: We need to exercise every day with COPD. It helps our ailing lungs, but exercise does more than that. It can provide better blood flow to the brain releasing molecules that could repair the brain. The release of serotonin and endorphins helps makes us want to exercise more frequently. Exercise also allows better oxygen flow to the brain.

Diet: Having a diet rich in vitamins and minerals keeps our brain happy and allows us to be more active.

Mindfulness and Meditation: These exercises can help calm the mind and allow us the space we need to keep things in perspective.

Games and puzzles: Engaging in mentally stimulating games and puzzles can make a difference but taking a course is probably better.

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