Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) is a clinical diagnosis that some may refer to as “pre-Alzheimer’s,” though this is not always the case. A person may be diagnosed with MCI when they are experiencing cognitive decline severe enough to notice, but not severe enough to affect their ability to carry out everyday activities. Mayo Clinic describes MCI as, “the stage between the expected decline of normal aging and the more serious decline of dementia.”
Some symptoms of MCI include:
- Forgetting things more often
- Forgetting important events like appointments
- Difficulty finding the right words or following a train of thought
- Feeling increasingly overwhelmed with decisions and planning
It is important to remember that our brain changes (along with the rest of our bodies) as we get older, so there will be changes we notice. It may take longer to think of a word, or you may have more difficulty remembering where you put your keys or remote. However, like Alzheimer’s, the changes experienced in MCI are more severe than “normal aging.”
Many people diagnosed with MCI eventually go on to develop Alzheimer’s disease, but not all do! Some people with MCI never experience further decline in cognition and remain stable for many years. According to the National Institute of Health, 8 out of 10 people with MCI will go on to develop Alzheimer’s disease within 7 years of diagnosis.
The path to diagnosis of MCI is similar to that of Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias. Like any memory assessment, the physician will rule out any other medical causes of memory loss and cognitive decline. When other causes are ruled out, the physician can complete memory, language, and other cognitive testing to determine if a diagnosis of MCI is necessary. The physician may also take into account the input of close family members or friends to determine what changes they have noticed.
There are currently no treatments with evidence to slow down or prevent MCI from developing into Alzheimer’s disease. There are some approved medications for Alzheimer’s disease, but again, these do not slow down the progression. These medications are not a recommended approach for treatment of MCI specifically at this moment in time.
Risk factors for MCI are similar to that of Alzheimer’s disease. Though genetics can play a role, there are many lifestyle factors such as heart health, physical activity, nutrition, etc. that could impact a person’s risk of developing MCI. There are many current research studies focusing on MCI in an attempt to determine causes, treatments, and progression of the disease.