Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI): Learn how to identify it

What is Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI)? Mild cognitive impairment is the loss of cognitive functions. Impairments are usually in processes such as attention, memory and processing speed. Even so, people with mild cognitive impairment are perfectly capable of self-care and can carry out their daily activities. Learn everything you need to know about mild cognitive impairment and how to differentiate it from dementia or Alzheimer. In addition, you will learn how to delay its appearance.

mild cognitive impairment
Mild cognitive impairment

What is Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI)?

Mild cognitive impairment is associated with people over 65, and it increases with age. It is more likely in rural areas and it happens in both women and men alike. In addition, people with MCI show greater cognitive impairment than expected given their age and education, so they perform worse on assessments than their peers.

CAB Test/ Cognitive Test
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Although less prevalent, cognitive impairment can also occur in young people, and it is usually due to other causes.

Mild cognitive impairment is characterized by a cognitive compromise, usually involving memory, but not severe enough to meet the criteria necessary for the diagnosis of dementia. (DSM-IV). Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is accepted as a diagnostic entity and refers to a transient state between normal aging and abnormal aging (dementia).

In order to diagnose a person with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), the following diagnostic criteria, proposed by Petersen et al, (2009), must be met:

1– Memory complaints preferably corroborated by a family member: Memory loss can sometimes be subjective. For this reason, the first diagnostic criterion is that a relative corroborate these memory problems, especially when it happens and at what intensity.

2- Memory impairment below age average: The second step in diagnosing mild cognitive impairment is to assess the person in every level, including neuropsychological tests to accurately assess the degree of impairment, and whether it can be classified as diagnostic or not.

3- General cognitive function is normal: The person is able to perform daily tasks as usual without needing help. Walking the dog, cooking, shopping.

4- Simple everyday activities intact, although there may be slight alterations in the complex ones: The person may perceive that they don’t process information as quickly as before, and tasks that they used to do without much effort such as reading can overwhelm and confuse them.

5- Absence of dementia: A key factor in the diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is that the person has no symptoms of dementia, such as apraxias, agnosias, speech or movement disturbances.

Types of Mild Cognitive Impairment

There are three possible types of Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI), which involve different possible evolutions. Thus, we can categorize Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) in:

  • Mild cognitive impairment of the amnesic type: Memory loss is the main symptom. When this type of MCI evolves, it is most likely to evolve into dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease. 
  • Mild Multidomain Cognitive Impairment: There are several affected areas, however, it doesn’t have to be only memory loss. If this MCI evolves into dementia, it can do so in several directions, including weakened judgment, deterioration in language functions, changes in personality and behavior.
  • Non-amnestic mild cognitive impairment: Represents the impairment of a single domain other than memory. It is the previous state of non-Alzheimer’s dementias, such as frontotemporal dementia, Lewy bodies, vascular and progressive primary aphasia, among others. People with this MCI may behave in a socially inappropriate way, which does not occur in the previous subtypes of mild cognitive impairment.

The Key to Differentiating Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) and Dementia

Doubts are common and we often associate mild cognitive impairment with dementia or Alzheimer’s, but they are different disorders.

Although the symptoms may seem very similar, we must take into account the main characteristic that differentiates the two disorders, which is that in dementia there must be a significant effect on the daily routine of the person. This means that it is difficult to perform daily tasks that they did by themselves until now.

This does not happen in mild cognitive impairment. The person generally suffers from memory loss. They have trouble remembering people’s names, forgetting where they left the keys, etc. However their daily routine is performed in a normal and autonomous way.

The essence of Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) is a memory impairment without dementia.

Despite conceptual and diagnostic advances in neuropsychology, it is estimated that a significant percentage of dementia cases are not diagnosed in the early stages.

mild cognitive impairment
Mild cognitive impairment comparison

Characteristics of People with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI)

A person with Mild Cognitive Impairment suffers from anterograde episodic memory.

This type of memory consists of in a difficulty in acquiring new memories. The person does not lose their knowledge, nor forget their biography, but fails in the following:

  • Ability to remember what they did two or three days ago
  • Remembering a medical appointment, or an appointment with your children or friends
  • Systematically forgets where things are kept
  • Often repeats the same questions in a conversation
  • Forget important facts from the conversation.
  • Confusion in the order of recent events or dates
  • When they interact with other people, they tend to be less patient, more irascible, uncontrolled and irritable.

10 Tips on How to Prevent and Slow Mild Cognitive Impairment

As there is currently no cure for mild cognitive impairment, it is imperative that we take precautions for a future onset. Training your brain daily will be the best shield against mild cognitive impairment.

1- Perform daily brain training

The Nature Magazine and a multitude of studies show the importance of brain training in order to help prevent cognitive impairment.

Valencia et al. (2008) have demonstrated the positive effects of brain training programs, either general or specific memory training, in cognitive impairment.

CogniFit is the leading program in cognitive assessment and brain training. CogniFit offers specific brain training for mild cognitive impairment and for people 55 and over.

CogniFit Brain Training
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CogniFit cognitive stimulation is the most widely used non-pharmacological treatment for mild cognitive impairment and early dementia. CogniFit technology is standardized and validated by the scientific community. It focuses on neuroplasticity. This brain capacity allows the evolution of the disease to slow down, and preserve, for longer, the cognitive abilities of the person, improving their quality of life.

CogniFit battery of exercises allows you to accurately assess and measure any person’s cognitive strengths and weaknesses. CogniFit will display a graph with the cognitive results and will automatically generate a personalized training that best suits the cognitive needs of each person.

2- Try the Mediterranean diet

Studies show that a high consumption of monounsaturated fatty acids (olive oil) and a low consumption of saturated fatty acids can have a protective effect against cognitive disorders, and against mild cognitive impairment in particular.

In addition, eating fish and shellfish once a week can significantly reduce the onset of cognitive impairment, according to a study published by the University of Chicago.

This rate of reduction would range between 10% and 13%, being beneficial for those who eat oily fish, rich in omega 3 and shellfish, compared to the population that hardly ever does. Food for the brain, and vitamins for the brain.

3- Use mnemonic memory

These kinds of strategies will help your memory retain recent information. Specifically, data categorization has very beneficial effects on people with mild cognitive impairment, and consists of giving specific instructions to repeat and remember information topics by categories.

It is very helpful to remember key words and repeat information.

Example: The person with mild cognitive impairment will more easily remember the medication they must take if they groups these medications into categories to activate recall.

4- Use visual aids

It has been shown that older people remember images more than words. It is important to provide visual memory content, such as, lists, notebooks, post-its, calendars, agendas, reminders in places that are very frequented (the fridge, television, the mirror,etc.) will be a very useful tool.

5- Walk 30 minutes a day

When we do moderate physical exercise, the brain cells are provided with sufficient oxygen, being a very favorable aspect in delaying the appearance of mild cognitive impairment.

Physical activity improves attention, memory, verbal fluency, global cognitive status and processing speed, skills that suffer most when mild cognitive impairment is diagnosed. It also helps to maintain the white and grey substance, especially of the parietal lobe.

6- Avoids tiredness and fatigue

It has been shown that older people process new information more slowly, especially in stressful situations where they have to multitask.

R.S. Wilson of Rush University Medical Center in Chicago says that continued anxiety alters cognitive functioning and accelerates the risk of dementia. So we have to take care of that aspect. How do we do that? Studies with seniors showed better cognitive functioning in those with more stress management skills or who regularly practiced meditation, relaxation, or yoga.

7- Never stop reading

The reading habit is a protective factor of cognitive impairment, and this protection is most significant in those frequent readers whose reading history exceeds 5 years. Encouraging reading could be a good primary prevention strategy for the population (Collado and Esteve 2012).

Read everything that falls into your hands; the newspaper, a magazine, books that you had pending, etc. gives your brain the best shield it can have to stop mild cognitive impairment.

8- Give more importance to your social relationships

Loneliness and isolation are factors associated with increased cognitive impairment. When the person with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) becomes aware of it and suffers from memory loss, they tend to isolate themselves, try to motivate them not to.

Help them participate in social activities (meetings, social centers, etc.) or collaborate with ONGs or volunteer causes.

9- Choose a hobby and set it in motion

One of the good things about old age or “Golden Age” is the wonderful amount of time you have when retired. It’s the perfect time to dare to do what you’ve always wanted to do but with the excuse of time you never started. Create a garden, sign up for painting classes, etc.

mild cognitive impairment
Mild cognitive impairment

Practicing a hobby regularly helps and promotes the correct performance of cognitive skills, and it is an excellent way to avoid cognitive impairments. Hobbies can delay the onset of mild cognitive impairment in over 65 years.

10- Ask for help when you notice the first symptoms

If you think you may be suffering from memory loss, don’t hesitate to see a specialist.

Early detection of mild cognitive impairment can help you slow down and change your life, include routines and exercises such as those presented in this article to improve your quality of life and slow the progression of cognitive impairment.

Above all, don’t isolate yourself or avoid family members who want to help you. If discovered early, mild cognitive impairment may not progress to other, more damaging stages of dementia.

As always, prevention and early detection of cognitive decline is fundamental.

Thank you so much for reading. Feel free to leave your comments and questions below