Mild Cognitive Impairment Overview
Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is a slight decline in one’s
memory and/or one’s ability to think clearly. It is noticeable to the person
experiencing it and to his or her loved ones. It is also measurable on
Mild cognitive impairment is not considered a form of
dementia, however, because it is not severe enough to interfere with a person’s
daily routine or with the ability to function independently.
The Alzheimer’s Association claims that 10 to 20 percent of
people over the age of 65 may have mild cognitive impairment (Alzheimer’s
What Are the Causes of Mild Cognitive Impairment?
According to the Mayo Clinic, the causes of mild cognitive
impairment are not clearly understood. The most current evidence suggests that
MCI is often caused by lesser degrees of the same types of brain damage found
in Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. These changes include
- beta-amyloid plaques with protein tangles
- dementia with Lewy bodies
- reduced blood flow to the brain
- damage caused by multiple small strokes
- shrinkage of parts of the brain associated with memory
- enlargement of fluid-filled spaces (ventricles)
- less use of glucose in key thinking regions
What Are the Symptoms of Mild Cognitive Impairment?
Mild cognitive impairment has two broad categories of
symptoms. The first category primarily affects memory (for example, forgetting
doctor’s appointments or not being able to recall the name of a good friend).
This type of impairment is known as “amnestic MCI.”
The second category of symptoms have to do with the thought
process itself—planning and completing a complex task like balancing one’s
checkbook, for instance, or exercising good judgment in risky situations. This
type of impairment is known as “nonamnestic MCI.”
Both types of symptoms may occur in the same individual.
How Is Mild Cognitive Impairment Diagnosed?
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, a medical workup
for MCI should include at least seven core areas of assessment (Alzheimer’s
Association). No diagnosis of any kind of cognitive impairment should be
made until all of the following tests have been completed:
- a thorough medical
both to assess for a familial history of dementia and to identify any
illnesses or medications that could be causing cognitive symptoms
- assessment of the
individual’s ability to function independently
- input from those
familiar with the individual to help catch symptoms the individual him
or herself might miss
- a series of simple
mental status tests
- a neurological exam
performed in the physician’s office
- careful evaluation
of mood and behavior, because mental illnesses like schizophrenia, bipolar
disorder, and major depression can cause symptoms that mimic dementia
- blood tests to rule
- brain imaging tests
to confirm the diagnosis of MCI or dementia
What Are the Treatments for Mild Cognitive Impairment?
No medications have been approved for use in those with mild
cognitive impairment, but some lifestyle changes may help slow or even reverse
disease progression. These include regular exercise, controlling cardiovascular
risks (e.g., by stopping smoking, changing one’s diet to include fresh fruits
and vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins) and participating in mentally
and socially stimulating activities (Alzheimer’s
What Is the Long-Term Outlook for Mild Cognitive Impairment?
A study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry suggests
that 60 to 65 percent of people with mild cognitive impairment will go on to
develop clinical dementia. Most of the other study participants either withdrew
or passed away without a diagnosis of dementia (Busse et al., 2006).
What Complications Are Associated with Mild Cognitive Impairment?
The chief complication associated with mild cognitive
impairment, according to the National Institute on Aging, is developing
Alzheimer’s disease or a related form of progressive dementia (National
Institute on Aging).
How Can Mild Cognitive Impairment Be Prevented?
Because so little is known about the causes of mild
cognitive impairment, there are no definitive guidelines in place for its
prevention. Some agencies suggest maintaining good cardiovascular health, but
there is no evidence that this actually does prevent MCI.