What is mild cognitive impairment (MCI)?
Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is an intermediate stage between the expected cognitive decline of normal aging and the more-serious decline of dementia. It can involve problems with memory, language, thinking and judgment that are greater than normal age-related changes.
If you have mild cognitive impairment, you may be aware that your memory or mental function has “slipped.” Your family and close friends also may notice a change. But generally these changes aren’t severe enough to significantly interfere with your day-to-day life and usual activities.
Mild cognitive impairment may increase your risk of later progressing to dementia, caused by Alzheimer’s disease or other neurological conditions. But some people with mild cognitive impairment never get worse, and a few eventually get better.
How common is mild cognitive impairment (MCI)?
Mild cognitive impairment is common. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.
What are the symptoms of mild cognitive impairment (MCI)?
The common symptoms of mild cognitive impairment (MCI) are:
- You forget things more often.
- You forget important events such as appointments or social engagements.
- You lose your train of thought or the thread of conversations, books or movies.
- You feel increasingly overwhelmed by making decisions, planning steps to accomplish a task or interpreting instructions.
- You start to have trouble finding your way around familiar environments.
- You become more impulsive or show increasingly poor judgment.
- Your family and friends notice any of these changes.
- Irritability and aggression
There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.
When should I see my doctor?
If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.
What causes mild cognitive impairment (MCI)?
There’s no single cause of mild cognitive impairment (MCI), just as there’s no single outcome for the disorder. Symptoms of MCI may remain stable for years, progress to Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia, or improve over time.
Current evidence indicates that MCI often, but not always, arises from a lesser degree of the same types of brain changes seen in Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia. Some of these changes have been identified in autopsy studies of people with MCI. These changes include:
- Abnormal clumps of beta-amyloid protein (plaques) and microscopic protein clumps of tau characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease (tangles)
- Lewy bodies, which are microscopic clumps of another protein associated with Parkinson’s disease, dementia with Lewy bodies and some cases of Alzheimer’s disease
- Small strokes or reduced blood flow through brain blood vessels
Brain-imaging studies show that the following changes may be associated with MCI:
- Shrinkage of the hippocampus, a brain region important for memory
- Enlargement of the brain’s fluid-filled spaces (ventricles)
- Reduced use of glucose, the sugar that’s the primary source of energy for cells, in key brain regions
What increases my risk for mild cognitive impairment (MCI)?
There are many risk factors for mild cognitive impairment (MCI), such as:
- Increasing age
- Having a specific form of a gene known as APOE-e4, also linked to Alzheimer’s disease — though having the gene doesn’t guarantee that you’ll experience cognitive decline
- High blood pressure
- Elevated cholesterol
- Lack of physical exercise
- Infrequent participation in mentally or socially stimulating activities
Diagnosis & treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How is mild cognitive impairment (MCI) diagnosed?
Mild cognitive impairment is a “clinical” diagnosis representing a doctor’s best professional judgment about the reason for a person’s symptoms. If a physician has difficulty confirming a diagnosis of MCI or the cause of MCI, biomarker tests such as brain imaging and cerebrospinal fluid tests may be performed to determine if the individual has MCI due to Alzheimer’s.
A medical workup for MCI includes the following core elements:
- Thorough medical history, where the physician documents current symptoms, previous illnesses and medical conditions, and any family history of significant memory problems or dementia.
- Assessment of independent function and daily activities, which focuses on any changes from a person’s usual level of function.
- Input from a family member or trusted friend to provide additional perspective on how function may have changed.
- Assessment of mental status using brief tests designed to evaluate memory, planning, judgment, ability to understand visual information and other key thinking skills.
- In-office neurological examination to assess the function of nerves and reflexes, movement, coordination, balance and senses.
- Evaluation of mood to detect depression; symptoms may include problems with memory or feeling “foggy.” Depression is widespread and may be especially common in older adults.
- Laboratory tests including blood tests and imaging of the brain’s structure.
If the workup doesn’t create a clear clinical picture, the doctor may recommend neuropsychological testing, which involves a series of written or computerized tests to evaluate specific thinking skills.
How is mild cognitive impairment (MCI) treated?
Currently, no mild cognitive impairment (MCI) drugs or other treatments are specifically approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). However, MCI is an active area of research. Clinical studies are underway to shed more light on the disorder and find treatments that may improve symptoms or prevent or delay progression to dementia.
Doctors sometimes prescribe cholinesterase inhibitors, a type of drug approved for Alzheimer’s disease, for people with MCI whose main symptom is memory loss. However, cholinesterase inhibitors aren’t recommended for routine treatment of MCI.
Treating other conditions that can affect mental function
Other common conditions besides MCI can make you feel forgetful or less mentally sharp than usual. Treating these conditions can help improve your memory and overall mental function. Conditions that can affect memory include:
- High blood pressure. People with MCI tend to be more likely to have problems with the blood vessels inside their brains. High blood pressure can worsen these problems and cause memory difficulties. Your doctor will monitor your blood pressure and recommend steps to lower it if it’s too high.
- When you’re depressed, you often feel forgetful and mentally “foggy.” Depression is common in people with MCI. Treating depression may help improve memory, while making it easier to cope with the changes in your life.
- Sleep apnea. In this condition, your breathing repeatedly stops and starts while you’re asleep, making it difficult to get a good night’s rest. Sleep apnea can make you feel excessively tired during the day, forgetful and unable to concentrate. Treatment can improve these symptoms and restore alertness.
Lifestyle changes & home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage mild cognitive impairment (MCI)?
The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with mild cognitive impairment (MCI):
- Regular physical exercise has known benefits for heart health and may also help prevent or slow cognitive decline.
- A diet low in fat and rich in fruits and vegetables is another heart-healthy choice that also may help protect cognitive health.
- Omega-3 fatty acids also are good for the heart. Most research showing a possible benefit for cognitive health uses fish consumption as a yardstick for the amount of omega-3 fatty acids eaten.
- Intellectual stimulation may prevent cognitive decline. Studies have shown computer use, playing games, reading books and other intellectual activities may help preserve function and prevent cognitive decline.
- Social engagement may make life more satisfying, and help preserve mental function and slow mental decline.
- Memory training and other thinking (cognitive) training may help improve your function.
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Review Date: November 22, 2017 | Last Modified: December 9, 2019
Mild cognitive impairment (MCI). https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/mild-cognitive-impairment/symptoms-causes/syc-20354578. Accessed November 22, 2017.
Mild Cognitive Impairment. https://www.alz.org/dementia/mild-cognitive-impairment-mci.asp. Accessed November 22, 2017.