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What is Mild Cognitive Impairment?

Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is a disorder affecting memory and mental function that can lead to language difficulties, error in judgmental capabilities, and loss of proper thinking capacity. This condition is different from the normal age-related decline in cognitive function but is not as severe as Alzheimer’s disease or other mental disorders that can affect your day to day activities. However, MCI can progress to Alzheimer’s disease in some people.

Causes of Mild Cognitive Impairment

Mild cognitive impairment may be associated with:

  • The presence of certain proteins forming plaques or tangles in the brain, also seen in Alzheimer’s disease
  • Shrinkage of the hippocampus, part of the brain that influences memory
  • Reduced blood flow through the brain’s blood vessels
  • Enlargement of the ventricles, the fluid-filled spaces in the brain
  • Dementia with Lewy bodies, characteristic proteins
  • Reduced use of glucose in key brain regions
  • Damage caused by multiple small strokes or TIA’s, transient ischemic attacks

Symptoms of Mild Cognitive Impairment

Signs and symptoms of mild cognitive impairment include:

  • Losing things often
  • Forgetting to go to events or appointments
  • Becoming more impulsive or showing increasingly poor judgment
  • Starting to have trouble finding your way around familiar environments
  • Losing thought or the thread of conversations, books, or movies

Diagnosis of Mild Cognitive Impairment

Your doctor will make a diagnosis based on your symptoms, medical history, your family history of dementia, or any illnesses or medications that could be causing cognitive symptoms.

Tests that may be performed to diagnose mild cognitive impairment include:

Neurological exam: These tests can help detect the neurological signs of Parkinson's disease, strokes, tumors, or other medical conditions that can damage your memory and physical function. Reflexes, eye movements, walking, and balance are tested during the neurological exam.

Lab tests: Blood tests can show physical abnormalities related to memory loss such as a vitamin B-12 deficiency or an underactive thyroid gland.

Brain imaging: Your doctor may order an MRI or CT scan to check for brain tumors, stroke, or bleeding.

Mental status testing: These tests help compare your mental function with others of similar age and education level. Your doctor may use a short or long form of mental testing. Short forms of mental testing can be carried out in 10 minutes. During testing, your doctor will have you conduct specific tasks, answer several questions such as naming today's date or ask you to follow written instruction. Longer forms of testing provide more detail about your mental function and psychiatric health.

Treatment of Mild Cognitive Impairment

There are no drugs or other treatments approved specifically for mild cognitive impairment (MCI). Many studies are underway to better understand the disorder and find treatments that can improve symptoms or prevent cognitive decline.

Your doctor may prescribe a cholinesterase inhibitor, a drug used for Alzheimer's disease if your memory loss is significant (amnesic MCI).

Some lifestyle changes may help slow or even decrease the progression of the disease. These include:

  • Exercising regularly
  • Avoiding smoking and alcohol
  • Changing to a diet that includes more fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Participating in mentally and socially stimulating activities

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7434 Louis Pasteur Drive, Suite 102,
San Antonio, TX 78229