What Is Mild Cognitive Impairment?

Aug 16, 2023

Mild Cognitive ImpairmentThe human body changes as it ages. This is not limited only to physical abilities, but also to cognitive ones. People typically become more forgetful as they age and this is most noticeable in the elderly. It may result in taking longer to find the right word to express oneself or an extra moment to recall a name. When the decline in cognitive abilities is greater than that of others of the same age, it is called Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI). If you notice a loved one’s memory has slowed, that reasoning and making judgements is taking longer or that planning complex tasks is becoming more of an effort, then they should be tested for MCI.

MCI Is Not Mental Decline

MCI is not a disease like Alzheimer’s or dementia. It is a slightly more severe form of a natural age-related process. The cognitive abilities may be slower, but normal life and activities are not affected. In many cases, the MCI reaches a point and remains there, with no further deterioration. In a few cases, MCI has even been known to improve. MCI also does not cause personality changes as Alzheimer’s and dementia do.

The Symptoms Of MCI

MCI has a wide range of symptoms. Among the most common are:

  • Becoming more forgetful
  • Missing appointments and social events
  • Starting a task but finding it difficult to finish it
  • Problems in understanding verbal or written instructions
  • Finding it difficult to follow the plot of a book or movie
  • Difficulty in flowing a conversation and participating in it
  • Finding it difficult to make decisions
  • Becoming momentarily unaware of surroundings and locations
  • Making judgements that would not have been made in the past

MCI may result in some personality changes such as:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Being bad-tempered or aggressive
  • Disinterest in matters that were previously of interest

The Causes Of MCI

There is no single cause for MCI. Some causes may be treatable to reduce their impact and some may not. Among the most often observed causes are:

  • Sleep apnea and other similar disorders
  • Conditions like blood clots, tumours, strokes and traumatic brain injury that affect the flow of blood to the brain
  • Nutrient deficiencies
  • Liver, thyroid and kidney problems
  • Anxiety, stress and depression
  • Infections
  • Substance and/or alcohol abuse
  • Side effects of some prescription medications

In some instances, MCI may be the early stage of degenerative mental conditions like Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s Disease, vascular dementia and more.

Factors That Increase The Risk Of MCI

While advancing age is the strongest risk factor for MCI, there are others that may contribute to its development. These include:

  • Having the APOE e4 gene
  • Diabetes
  • Obstructive sleep apnea
  • Depression
  • Smoking
  • High cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Obesity
  • Insufficient physical exercise
  • Lack of mentally stimulating activities

Diagnosing MCI

Diagnosing MCI is not easy. There are various conditions where the early signs are similar to those of MCI. Also, many symptoms of MCI are common to other ailments. When MCI is suspected, the doctor will, among other actions:

  • Ask about the symptoms and their severity
  • Study the patient’s medical history
  • Enquire about any family history of mental problems of any kind
  • Perform a physical examination
  • Do various mental ability and memory tests
  • Examine the effects of any medication that is being taken
  • Ask family members and close friends about any cognitive or behavioural changes

Various tests may also be ordered including:

  • Laboratory tests for:
    • Any signs of infection
    • Thyroid hormone level tests
    • Vitamin deficiency
    • Autoimmune conditions
  • Imaging tests for signs of brain damage caused by:
    • Strokes
    • Tumours
    • Bleeding
    • Fluid on the brain

Neuropsychological tests for memory and cognitive ability may also be ordered.

Treating MCI

If MCI is caused by a neurodegenerative disease, then the condition cannot be reversed. However, its progress can be slowed and the condition managed. There are, at present, no approved medications for the treatment of MCI although research to find treatment options is ongoing. If the cause is due to infection, sleep disorders, lifestyle or medication side effects, the doctor will develop a treatment plan tailored to the specific causes of the condition.

Preventing MCI

MCI cannot be prevented – no treatment or medication will keep a person from getting the condition. That said, there is research that shows that lifestyle changes in middle age may help in reducing the likelihood of developing MCI:

  • Avoiding activities that could result in head injuries
  • Controlling alcohol intake
  • Avoiding smoking and recreational drug use
  • Managing health conditions such as diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure and cholesterol levels
  • Reducing anxiety, stress and depression
  • Staying physically fit
  • Ensuring adequate sleep
  • Indulging in social activities
  • Doing crossword and other puzzles and other mentally stimulating activities

If you or someone close to you has the symptoms of MCI, it is important to ensure that the condition is diagnosed quickly. It could be nothing – just a transient stress-related bout of inattention that will quickly pass. Or it could be MCI or another condition where early treatment can alleviate or reduce the impact of the condition. Because of the various factors that contribute to the development of MCI, the best place to go is a multispecialty hospital where there will be a full range of departments and medical specialists to do a detailed examination and come up with an accurate diagnosis.

A diagnosis of MCI can be a shock, but it should not take over a person’s life. With early diagnosis and the right treatment plan, MCI need have only minimal impact on a person’s activities and quality of life.

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