September 18th, 2012 at 10:00 am
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Elders at risk from mild cognitive impairment

by Dorian Martin

Mild cognitive impairment. When I first heard that term in 2004, it didn’t seem very threatening. The clinical neuropsychologist who had just completed a series of tests on my mother said, “You have mild cognitive impairment, but you don’t have Alzheimer’s.” That diagnosis seemed to lift the threat of dementia off our shoulders. What we didn’t realize at the time but would learn is that this type of impairment can be the precursor of dementia. In Mom’s case, she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease a year later.

However, not everyone who has mild cognitive impairment, also called MCI, develops dementia. And in some cases, people who have been diagnosed with MCI may actually see their brain function return to normal.

Types of mild cognitive impairment

The Alzheimer’s Association notes that MCI leads to “slight but noticeable and measurable decline in cognitive abilities, including memory and thinking skills.” There are two different types of MCI. The first kind — amnestic MCI — involves a person forgetting important information that they would easily have recalled previously, such as appointments, conversations and recent events. The second version, nonamnestic MCI, affects thinking skills such as decision-making, visual perception, judging time or estimating the sequence of steps needed to complete a complex task.

Effects of mild cognitive impairment

MCI can pose risks, according to a HealthDay article. For example, New York City’s Yeshiva University followed more than 700 men and women over the age of 70; at the start of the study, approximately 25 percent of the participants had either MCI or some type of dementia. The researchers found that over 16 years participants who had or developed either MCI or dementia were two to three times more likely to die than individuals whose mental abilities remained intact.

This impairment also can cause the person to become isolated. The HealthDay article describes a study by Oregon’s Health and Science University following 148 elders who, on average, were 84 years old. Of those participants, 28 had MCI. The researchers put motor sensor technology throughout each person’s home to track their activity over a three-year period. Participants with MCI spent less time outside their home compared to people who were mentally healthy.

Getting medical advice on MCI

There aren’t any medications approved for treating MCI. However, the Alzheimer’s Association recommends lifestyle changes to help, including exercise, mental stimulation and controlling risk factors related to cardiovascular health.

If you suspect that a loved one has MCI, it’s important to see a doctor to assess the situation. Memory loss can have other root causes, such as medications or stress. Also, be sure that the elder gets reassessed every six months to check for any changes in mental function.

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