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Mild Cognitive Impairment

As we age, changes occur that can be easily mistaken for something more sinister. Periodic forgetfulness or mild mood swings, for instance, are nothing over which to become too concerned. When the symptoms get more severe or “don’t feel right,” it is time to talk to a doctor.

Best case scenario? Your doctor may find a less significant cause for whatever ailment troubles you. Worst case scenario? Your doctor identifies dementia. That said, the earlier the dementia is treated by a medical professional, the better the long-term situation.

In the case of Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI), you may become aware that something is wrong or that your mental function is slipping. Friends and family may also notice and/or comment on the change. Thankfully, this change isn’t typically severe enough to interfere with daily life.



MCI is a stage that exists between an expected decline in cognitive function due to aging and a decline due to suspected dementia. MCI is generally a concern with a person present with judgment, language, memory, and thinking problems that appear greater or more severe than are associated with age-related change.



Common symptoms of MCI include, but are not limited to:

  • Increased forgetfulness (including significant dates, commitments, or events)
  • Consistent loss of a “train of thought”
  • Struggle making decisions or interpreting instructions
  • Increased impulsivity or use of poor judgment
  • Increased depression, irritability, anxiety, or apathy


Brain or Physical Changes

The brain and/or physical changes associated with mild cognitive impairment are typically milder than those associated with dementia. With mild cognitive impairment, as plaque builds up throughout the brain, the hippocampus shrinks and the ventricles (or fluid-filled sacks) become enlarged.


Causes and/or Risk Factors

Currently, there is no known single cause of MCI, which makes sense since there is no current single outcome either. Symptoms of MCI often remain stable for years. Sometimes they progress to other types of dementia – including Alzheimer’s disease – and sometimes they actually improve. Some evidence would suggest that MCI sometimes results from other forms of dementia. That said, there are certain risk factors associated with mild cognitive impairment including the following:

  • Depression
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol levels
  • Increased age
  • Lack of exercise
  • Lack of mental and/or social stimulation
  • Smoking


Diagnosis, Treatment, and Care

At this time, no specific tests exist to aid medical professionals in determining a diagnosis of MCI. A doctor most often runs various tests that rule out other diagnoses.

Also at this time, no drugs or treatments for MCI specifically have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. That said, scientists and researchers are actively studying MCI, and many studies are being done to learn more about the disorder. The goal currently remains to help patients identify the disorder, improve their symptoms, and delay any progression of the disorder to dementia. In lieu of MCI-specific drugs, some doctors choose to prescribe the same drugs (cholinesterase inhibitors) for Alzheimer’s disease. Most often, this happens if the patient presents with memory loss.

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