Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) is an intermediate stage between the expected cognitive changes of normal aging and the more serious decline of dementia. It can involve problems with memory, language, thinking and judgment. The individual may notice these changes as well as family and close friends. However, these changes are generally not severe enough to interfere with daily life.
Signs and Symptoms of MCI
- Memory loss
- Language disturbance (difficulty in finding words)
- Difficulty following or focusing on conversations
- Deterioration in visuospatial skills (disorientation in familiar surroundings)
- MCI that primarily affects memory is known as "amnestic MCI." It is the most common form of MCI.
MCI: neither dementia nor Alzheimer’s disease
Dementia is associated with abnormalities in two or more cognitive domains and disrupts social or professional activity. MCI, however, is usually associated with abnormalities in just one cognitive domain and does not disrupt social or professional activity.
Early Diagnosis is Important
MCI increases the risk of developing Alzheimer’s or dementia. Although 15% of individuals do seem to worsen, recent studies have shown that the majority (60%) of MCI patients remain stable and 20% actually improve. *
The exact cause of MCI is not always known. However, MCI can be associated with a variable number of conditions, for example, a sleep disorder or depression. These conditions can be successfully treated, so if you or a family member has concerns about memory or thinking skills you should see a physician as soon as possible.
You may start by seeing your family doctor and if he or she suspects you have cognitive changes, you may be referred to a specialist such as a neurologist or geriatric medicine specialist. The medical work-up should include a thorough medical history, assessment of daily and functional activities, a variety of cognitive assessment tests, lab tests and imaging studies.
Due to recent advances in brain imaging, physicians can now see physical changes in the brain before outward signs of the disease become obvious. This allows physicians to start treatment earlier.
While no medications are currently approved to treat MCI, some medications that are prescribed for Alzheimer's may help individuals with MCI focus better and think more clearly. Ask your physician for more information. It is recommended that you follow-up with your physician every 6 months to determine if symptoms are staying the same, improving or getting worse.
*Mitchell AJ, Shiri-Feshki M. Rate of progression of mild cognitive impairment to dementia-meta-analysis of 41 robust inception cohort studies. Acta Psychiatr Scand 2009; 119(4): 252-65.
Coping with Memory Problems
- Keep a notebook to record names, phone numbers and appointments.
- Use notes around the house as reminders.
- Use a calendar for appointments, important dates and due dates for bills.
- Use an answering machine or voicemail to keep track of phone messages.
- Label cabinets and drawers to prevent searching for items you need.
- Ask a family member or friend to remind you of important appointments and events.
- Ask for help when you need it!
Practice Good Brain Health
- Get physical activity and exercise. It doesn’t have to be strenuous. Find something you enjoy and fit it into your lifestyle.
- Manage your health risks. Maintain a healthy weight, manage blood pressure and cholesterol, stay on top of conditions such as diabetes, and quit smoking.
- Eat healthy. Eat a balanced diet with lots of fruits and vegetables. Limit the amount of high fat, sugary and salty foods.
- Engage your brain. Challenge your brain with puzzles, crosswords or number games. Read books, magazines, etc. Learn something new like a new language or skill.
- Stay socially connected. Stay active in your faith community, volunteer for a local charity or school or join a social or travel club. Maintain healthy relationships with friends and family.
~ John H. Dougherty, Jr., MD ~ Monica K. Crane, MD