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Mild Cognitive Impairment: What you need to know now


By Josh Eibelman

Have you or someone you know been forgetting things more often or having more trouble remembering words or completing familiar tasks? These slight changes in memory or other thinking abilities might be signs of Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI). They can also be accompanied by changes in mood and behavior, such as depression, anxiety, apathy, and irritability.

People with MCI can experience difficulty remembering names, recalling words, and making simple step-by-step plans. Though having MCI does not make these tasks impossible and people remain mostly independent, it often causes a noticeable difference in memory and thinking.

People who have MCI are at an increased risk for developing dementia, most often due to Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Ten to fifteen percent of patients with MCI progress to dementia each year. For approximately 60% of MCI patients, an MCI diagnosis represents the first symptomatic stage of the AD continuum. However, some patients with MCI do not progress to dementia, and MCI can also have causes other than AD, such as vascular dementia and dementia with Lewy bodies.

Risk of developing MCI increases with age. Other risk factors include a family history of AD or other dementias, Type 2 Diabetes, high blood pressure, smoking, and depression. Though there is currently no FDA approved treatment for MCI, there are ways that have been scientifically shown to improve brain health. These include treating high blood pressure (even if it is only mildly elevated), engaging in aerobic exercise regularly (at least 30 minutes a day, 3-4 times per week), eating a healthy diet (eating more whole grains, vegetables, fish, and poultry and less red meat, fried food, and refined sugar), getting 7-8 hours of restful sleep each night, learning new things, and socializing with family and friends.

It is important to see your doctor if you or a loved one notices or suspects a decline in memory and/or other thinking abilities. The Center for Brain / Mind Medicine (CBMM) at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the Memory Disorders Unit (MDU) at Massachusetts General Hospital can provide additional diagnosis and treatment services. An initial doctor’s visit with a dementia specialist may include discussing your symptoms, testing of thinking abilities, and a physical exam.

Receiving a diagnosis of MCI can be upsetting for patients and those close to them. However, there are concrete steps that can be taken in the face of such a diagnosis. First, lifestyle modifications as described above can help prevent further decline of memory and/or other thinking abilities. Additionally, the Center for Alzheimer Research and Treatment (CART) at Brigham and Women’s Hospital offers observational studies and clinical trials for individuals with MCI or dementia or those who have concerns about their memory. Such research studies are crucial for finding more effective treatments and preventative measures, and ultimately a cure for AD and related dementias in the future. For additional information contact us at cart@partners.org.

Finally, there are many resources for patient and caregiver support, including the Massachusetts General Hospital’s Dementia Co-Management & Caregiver Support Program, who can be reached at dementiacaregiversupport@mgh.harvard.edu and the Alzheimer’s Association (which has a 24/7 helpline: 800.272.3900).

Sources: madrc.org, Alzheimer’s Association, UCSF Memory and Aging Center, MedlinePlus.gov, National Institute on Aging

About the Author: Josh Eibelman, a senior at Cornell University, is an intern at the Massachusetts Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center. He developed this article in collaboration with Drs. Gad Marshall and Dorene Rentz of the Center for Alzheimer’s Research and Treatment at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.


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