What is Mild Cognitive Impairment?

Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) refers to diminished cognitive functioning in later age. It is in between a normal cognitive functioning and that lowered cognitive functions such as the kind seen in people with dementia. Mild cognitive impairment affects approximately 15-20% of adults ages 60 years and older. People with mild cognitive impairment may later develop dementia or Alzheimer’s disease (AD). While many people understand the symptoms of mild cognitive impairment, many people do not understand what mild cognitive impairment is. In this blog post, we discuss what mild cognitive impairment is. 

What is Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) ?

Mild cognitive impairment is a disorder characterized by the slight impairments in cognitive functioning experienced by an individual, particularly in the area of memory. People with mild cognitive impairment may only struggle with remembering appointments or social activities, slight aphasia symptoms, visual impairments, or have minor difficulties with visual-spatial skills. Other than minor difficulties, they are able to make decisions and problem solve without any problems. 

Mild cognitive impairment has a variety of causes. Some causes may be a family history of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, vascular disease, or having experienced a brain injury early in life may result in someone developing mild cognitive impairment. Isolation may also cause someone to develop mild cognitive impairment, as a person is not being cognitively stimulated by engaging with others. Experiencing high stress may also lead to mild cognitive impairment, as stress impacts brain and cognitive functioning. Researchers are trying to better pinpoint exactly what causes mild cognitive impairment, but it appears that mild cognitive impairment is caused by a variety of risk factors that include biological, psychological, and environmental variables. 

Mild cognitive impairment is often assessed by a neuropsychologist or neurologist. A neuropsychologist will perform a neuropsychological evaluation to determine how well a person is functioning cognitively compared to individuals within their age group. A neurologist may order imaging of a person’s brain to look for structural abnormalities or the presence of plaques such as those seen in people with Alzheimer’s disease. Depending on the diagnoses given by professionals, a person with mild cognitive impairment may be referred to therapeutic services or prescribed medications

Treatment for mild cognitive impairment may include a combination of medication or other non-pharmacologic therapies. People with mild cognitive impairment may work with a psychologist, speech therapist, or occupational therapist to work on cognitive, language, or applied functioning skills. Individuals may perform cognitive exercises on a digital cognitive therapy tool or by working on cognitive worksheets provided by a therapist. Additionally, individuals with mild cognitive impairment may be prescribed an aerobic exercise regimen or advised a nutrition regimen to reduce the progression of mild cognitive impairment and maintain their brain health.

Conclusion

Mild cognitive impairment is a disorder characterized by the experience of diminished cognitive functioning. It is not as severe of an impairment like individuals who have dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, but they may not function on the same level as their peers. People with mild cognitive impairment are often over 60 years old, but it does not affect all individuals the same. Some individuals will only have diminished memory capacities while others may have a slight cognitive impairment in areas of language, visual abilities, and visual-spatial skills. Clinical providers who diagnose mild cognitive impairment include neuropsychologists, neurologists, psychiatrists, and psychologists. If a person is diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment, they may be treated with medication, cognitive remediation therapy, or an exercise and diet regimen. 

Citation: Petersen, R. C. (2016). Mild cognitive impairment. CONTINUUM: Lifelong Learning in Neurology, 22(2 Dementia), 404.
Christine Campbell

Christine is HappyNeuron Pro’s Marketing Specialist. People with intellectual disabilities have a special place in her heart. Growing up with a sibling with an autism diagnosis and intellectual disability influenced the way she views life. She is passionate about educating people about health and sharing cognitive tips.

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