Functional cognition

Functional cognition

Functional cognition is a priority area for individuals with many health conditions and disabilities across the lifespan.  There is great need to develop measures and effective interventions for functional cognition.

  • Cognition is a factor that supports or limits full participation in meaningful life activities, compromises health and well-being for individuals with diverse conditions, and a current research priority in the strategic plans of many funding agencies.1
  • Functional cognition refers to the thinking and processing skills that are used to accomplish everyday activities in clinical and community environments.2
  • There are over 16 million Americans who are living with cognitive impairment.  Public health surveillance was recently added as part of the CDC’s Healthy Brain Initiative to better understand the prevalence and implications of cognitive impairments for the daily life of individuals and their caregivers.1
  • Impairments in functional cognition may be evident in many health conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson disease, multiple sclerosis, traumatic brain injury, stroke, spinal cord injury, psychiatric illnesses, cancer, and diabetes.2
  • Functional cognition may influence safety, caregiver burden, and resource utilization as well as performance in everyday activities.2

Urgent Need

Functional cognition has been identified as

  • a critical factor influencing health and well-being for many conditions and populations
  • an area in which evidence-based measures and interventions are needed
  • an area where application of the unique expertise of occupational therapy would be highly beneficial  

The OT Lens

Occupational therapy focuses on those aspects of cognition that are inherent in “doing everyday activities.” Improved assessments and interventions are needed to address the cognitive competencies for performing complex everyday activities.

Current knowledge, research training, measures and interventions in the area of functional cognition are inadequate for addressing the needs of individuals whose participation and health are limited by impairments in functional cognition.  AOTF is committed to the development of a scientific network and body of evidence to achieve effective and efficient advances in occupational therapy science to address functional cognition in home, clinical, and community settings.

Opportunity to Affect Progress

There are a few occupational therapy scientists who are building knowledge related to functional cognition.  However, there is no coordinated network for occupational therapy research in this area, nor sufficient resources to train more occupational therapy researchers. We believe a significant investment is needed to address functional cognition across the lifespan in order to achieve better outcomes and improve quality of life.


1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2016). Healthy aging. Retrieved from

2. American Occupational Therapy Association. (2015). Role of occupational therapy in assessing functional cognition. Retrieved from

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