Cognition is a term that refers to mental processes that involve our ability to learn new information, recall information, formulate thoughts, communicate thoughts, solve problems, and make sound judgements. Put simply, it’s how we perceive, process and respond to our environment. It is comprised of 5 domains, which include:

  1. Attention
  2. Memory
  3. Language
  4. Executive Functions
  5. Visuo-spatial skills

Attention is the ability to focus. Attention is the foundation to all cognitive functions. Good attention allows us to recall what we’ve seen or heard, solve problems, and and juggle thoughts well enough to form cohesive thoughts.  

Memory is how we hold onto memory and recall information. 

There are many different types of memory. A very common impairment after a stroke is a short-term memory impairment, such as forgetting what you had for breakfast or what you did yesterday. Long term memory is usually intact after strokes. Examples of long term memory include memories of childhood, career, and other events from the past. Other types of memory include procedural memory such as a person’s ability to perform familiar tasks and working memory such as holding a phone number in your head before writing it down to dialing it on the phone.

Language is a person’s ability to translate ideas into words. First a person must formulate an intent to communicate something, then they need to retrieve the words to express that thought, and after, formulate it into a cohesive and understandable thought. When put this way, you can see how language is a cognitive process. Language does not only involve verbal communication. When a language system is impaired, a person may also have difficulty with reading, writing, and auditory comprehension.

Executive function is the highest cognitive function we have as humans. This is because our most evolved part of the brain, the frontal lobe, is in charge of these functions. The frontal lobe is responsible for problem-solving, judgment, inhibition, organization, planning, time management, and sequencing. 

What does good executive functioning look like? 

If a person decides that they want to make a cup of coffee, the brain first has get the person off the couch to initiate the task. Then, they will plan, prioritize, and sequence task which means that they have a clear understanding that the water has to be measured first and poured into the coffee machine, then the coffee filter needs to be placed, then the coffee needs to be measured, then they hit start. Someone with good time management and judgement, will also know about when the coffee will be ready and remember to check or go back to the coffee maker to pour the coffee and complete the task. All of these functions along the way are part of the executive function domain of cognition.

Visuospatial skills are an individual’s ability to understand visual information in the environment, understand depth, movement and distance perception.