Home » Disorders » Symptoms of Major Neurocognitive Disorder

Symptoms of Major Neurocognitive Disorder

Major neurocognitive disorder was previously known as dementia and the primary feature of all neurocognitive disorders (NCDs) is an acquired cognitive decline in one or more cognitive domains. The cognitive decline must not just be a sense of a loss of cognitive abilities, but observable by others — as well as tested by a cognitive assessment (such as a neuropsychological test battery).

Dementia can occur at any time in a person’s life, but occurs more frequently in older adults. Dementia is not an inevitable outcome of normal aging.

Neurocognitive disorders typically can affect one or more of the major areas of cognition: memory, attention, learning, language, perception, and social cognition. They interfere significantly with a person’s everyday independence in major neurocognitive disorder, but not so in mild neurocognitive disorder.

Specific Symptoms of Major Neurocognitive Disorder

1. Evidence of significant cognitive decline from a previous level of performance in one or more cognitive domains — such as complex attention, executive function, learning, memory, language, perceptual-motor or social cognition.

This evidence should consist of:

  • Concern of the individual, a knowledgeable informant (such as a friend or family member), or the clinician that there’s been a significant decline in cognitive function; and
  • A substantial impairment in cognitive performance, preferably documented by standardized neuropsychological testing. Of if neuropsychological testing isn’t available, another type of qualified assessment.

2. The cognitive deficits interfere with independence in everyday activities (e.g., at a minimum, requiring assistance with complex instrumental activities of daily living, such as paying bills or managing medications).

3. The cognitive deficits don’t occur exclusively in context of a delirium, and are not better explained by another mental disorder.

Specify whether due to:

  • Alzheimer’s disease (294.1x/331.9)
  • Frontotemporal lobar degeneration (294.1x/331.9)
  • Lewy body disease (294.1x/331.9)
  • Vascular disease (290.40/331.9)
  • Traumatic brain injury (294.1x)
  • Substance/medication use
  • HIV infection (294.1x)
  • Prion disease (294.1x)
  • Parkinson’s disease (294.1x/331.9)
  • Huntington’s disease (294.1x)
  • Another medical condition (294.1x)
  • Multiple etiologies (294.1x)
  • Unspecified (799.59)

Code in parentheses refers to coding for whether the neurocognitive disorder’s cause is probable/possible.


Terminology new to the DSM-5. Code depends on the medical cause of the disorder.

John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Dr. John Grohol is the founder of Psych Central. He is an author, researcher, and expert in mental health online, and has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 1995. Dr. Grohol has a Master's degree and doctorate in clinical psychology from Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Grohol sits on the editorial board of the journal Computers in Human Behavior and is a founding board member of the Society for Participatory Medicine. You can learn more about Dr. John Grohol here.

APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2020). Symptoms of Major Neurocognitive Disorder. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 25, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 27 Jan 2020 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 27 Jan 2020
Published on Psych All rights reserved.