Mild cognitive impairment (also known as MCI) is a decline of mental function that falls between the expected decline of normal aging and the more serious decline of dementia. It can often involve difficulty with memory, language, thinking and judgment. These declines are greater than normal age-related impairments. However, they are not generally severe enough to interfere with day-to-day activities.
Wellness & Prevention
As the cause of MCI isn’t known, prevention is focused on lifestyle choices that help stimulate mental focus. MCI increases a person’s risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.
The causes of mild cognitive impairment aren’t well understood. Experts believe that many cases result from brain changes that occur in early Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. The risk factors most strongly linked to MCI are the same as those for dementia:
- Advancing age
- Family history of Alzheimer’s or other dementia
- Lifestyle factors like physical fitness and dietary habits
Confirming MCI involves several procedures. Doctors will conduct a thorough exam of the individual’s medical history and daily functioning. A physical and behavioral assessment will also be performed. The doctor will attempt to evaluate the person’s memory and mental status. If necessary, lab tests may be done to rule out other conditions that may be affecting the individual’s mental health.
It can be hard to tell the difference between impaired cognitive function and normal aging. People with MCI often have at least one of the following symptoms:
- Forgetfulness of important events or facts
- Losing train of thought in conversation
- Feeling overwhelmed by planning or decisions
- Getting lost in familiar areas
- Poor judgement with health or finances
- Depression, anxiety or apathy
Symptoms in people with MCI may never progress, and some can even improve over time. Early detection of behavior changes in loved ones will give people with MCI the best chances of keeping their mental function for as long as possible.
There are no medications currently approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of MCI. Drugs approved for the treatment of symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease have not shown any lasting benefit in delaying or preventing progression of MCI.
Certain lifestyle changes are thought to help slow the decline of thinking skills:
- Physical activity such as aerobic exercise and weight training can improve blood flow to the brain and stimulate mental function.
- Social activity and interaction is associated with better mental functioning.
- Mentally-stimulating activities like reading, solving puzzles or learning new skills may delay the onset of dementia or Alzheimer’s.
- Healthy diets can improve overall health and improve the chances of keeping good mental focus for as long as possible. Research suggests that balanced diets and omega-3 fatty acids may preserve brain function.
Treatments and care of MCI usually involve improving quality of life and managing the symptoms. Specialists recommend that people diagnosed with MCI have a checkup every six months to make sure their condition is stable. It’s possible for symptoms of MCI to worsen, improve or stay the same over time.
It’s not yet possible to tell what causes the onset and progression of MCI. However, researchers are working to develop new tools to identify, predict and measure the effects of MCI and other types of dementias to try and improve the individual’s quality of life.