What a Mild Cognitive Impairment Diagnosis Really Means
As we age, all of us sometimes struggle to remember why we went into the pantry, or rack our brains to recall a name, but if it’s happening more and more often it’s a good idea to be evaluated for mild cognitive impairment.
What is it?
Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is a slight, but noticeable decline in memory and thinking.
The cognitive decline is significant enough to be noticed by the person and those around them but, unlike Alzheimer’s or dementia, MCI does not interfere with a person’s ability to take care of themselves and participate in normal daily activities. Symptoms include problems with memory such as struggling to remember names of long-time friends or recent events, language problems like struggling to find the right word for things, difficulty maintaining attention and focus, and difficulty making complex decisions.
How common is it?
According to the American Academy of Neurology, MCI is present in about 8 percent of people aged 65 to 69, 15 percent of people aged 75 to 79, 25 percent of people aged 80 to 84, and about 37 percent of people over age 85. Some conditions, including diabetes, depression, sleep apnea, and stroke may increase the chances for developing MCI.
How is it diagnosed and monitored?
MCI is a clinical diagnosis and there is no one medical test for diagnosing the condition. The process for diagnosing MCI typically includes:
- A thorough medical exam and patient history including a review of all medications the patient is taking.
- A short in-office mental status test assessing memory, attention, and short-term recall.
- Input from the patient and family members about recent cognitive decline.
- A more in-depth neuropsychological may be ordered to determine the degree of memory impairment.
After a diagnosis of MCI, a person should be evaluated every six to twelve months for signs of further decline.
How is MCI treated?
Currently, there are no medications approved to treat MCI, but there are things that can be done to maintain cognitive health, such as:
- Follow a healthy diet including a variety of fruits, vegetables, beans and legumes, and healthy fats, while reducing processed food and saturated fats.
- Reduce stress. Studies have shown that chronic stress increases the risk of cognitive decline, while practicing mindfulness through activities like meditation, yoga, or journaling can help reduce stress and improve cognition.
- Exercise regularly. Exercise offers mental and social stimulation while also increasing blood flow to the brain.
- Follow a regular sleep schedule. Getting enough sleep can improve attention, learning, memory, and decision making. Contact your doctor if you are experiencing frequent sleep disturbances.
- Maintain social connections. Studies have shown that social relationships enhance mental cognition.
- Engage in mentally stimulating activities like taking up a new hobby or learning a new language.
How Neurotrack can help
Neurotrack offers at-home cognitive assessments (as sensitive as the ones in your doctor's office) that you can use to privately monitor your thinking and memory. We also have a virtual coaching program to help you protect your cognition by working on the lifestyle habits mentioned above. Clients who've tried the coaching program usually see a significant decline in depression and anxiety, too, in part because taking science-backed action (especially on the heels of an MCI diagnosis) can bring relief.
- Does mild cognitive impairment always lead to dementia? Pub Med.
- Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) symptoms & treatments. Alzheimer's Association.
- Staving off dementia when you have mild cognitive impairment. Harvard Health.
- Mild cognitive symptoms, causes, treatments, tests. Cleveland Clinic.
- Social relationships and risk of incident mild cognitive impairment in US Alzheimer's Disease Centers. PMC (NIH.gov).