Find out what mild cognitive impairment is...

The name might be a bit long and confusing, but understanding what mild cognitive impairment is, and its relation to memory loss and dementia, can be useful for anyone who thinks they may have memory problems

In a nutshell

Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) causes memory problems that are noticeable, but are not interfering with everyday life in the way that dementia can.

Know the symptoms

It’s very tempting to spot the first signs of memory problems and assume they must mean someone has dementia. But this isn’t always the case, especially if the symptoms aren’t impeding or affecting their life seriously. Someone with mild cognitive impairment may:

- Have difficulty remembering things, including appointments or social engagements
- Lose the thread of a conversation or the plot of books or films
- Struggle to follow instructions and carry out previously straightforward tasks
- Regularly lose or misplace items
- Have difficulty remembering the names of people you’ve just met

You may notice these symptoms yourself, or a friend or family member may have pointed out issues a couple of times.

Did you know? Between five and 20 per cent of older people have some form of MCI. In studies of memory clinics, 10 per cent of those with MCI went on to develop dementia each year.

What are the risk factors for MCI?

Age – the older you get, the higher the chances are that you’ll develop mild cognitive impairment.

Genes – a particular form of a gene known as APOE-e4 has been linked to cognitive decline (although having this gene doesn’t guarantee that you’ll develop MCI or dementia.

Can you prevent mild cognitive impairment?

While age and genes are the biggest risk factors for developing MCI (which unfortunately you can’t do anything about), there are other aspects of your health which can affect how quickly MCI might develop, or progress into dementia.

- Medical conditions such as diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure can increase the risk of MCI developing into dementia.
- Lifestyle issues such as smoking, drinking too much, and raised cholesterol levels can also raise the risk.

Taking steps to make lifestyle changes (exercise, healthy diet, minimal alcohol and no smoking) could reduce risks of health issues like diabetes and high blood pressure, thus reducing your risk for MCI.

I’m worried about MCI – what next?

If you think you might have mild cognitive impairment, your next step is to talk to your doctor so he can evaluate you through tests. The benefit of picking up any problems at this stage is that it helps to identify if you’re at risk of going on to develop dementia, and means you may have earlier access to treatments and practical information.

It’s also worth remembering that being diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment doesn’t always mean that you’ll go on to get dementia. Memory loss can be caused by a range of reasons including curable conditions, which could mean your memory may improve, rather than deteriorate. And some people with MCI can remain stable for quite a long time without symptoms worsening.