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Mild Cognitive Impairment

Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) may involve problems with memory, language, thinking, reasoning and judgment that are beyond the normal limits of age-related memory changes.

MCI should be considered on the continuum between normal age-related memory decline and the more cognitively and functionally debilitating changes associated with dementia.

People with MCI may be quite aware that their memory and cognitive functioning are declining more notably than their age-matched peers. In addition, family members, friends and even coworkers may notice changes in memory and cognitive functioning. However, these changes are not severe enough to interfere significantly with daily functioning or activities.

The cognitive changes associated with MCI do not interfere with a person’s capacity for independence in everyday activities. Complex activities of daily living such as paying bills or overseeing medications are preserved, but greater effort, compensatory strategies, or accommodations may be required.


Mild cognitive impairment (sometimes called pre-dementia) does increase the risk of developing dementia, but does not indicate a certainty of progressive cognitive decline. On average, about 1 to 2 percent of older adults develop dementia every year. Studies suggest that around 10 to 15 percent of older adults (greater than 65 years) with MCI or minor neurocognitive disorders, develop dementia every year.

Symptoms of Mild Cognitive Impairment may include:

  • You forget names and details of things or events more frequently
  • You forget important dates or appointments including social engagements
  • You lose your train of thought during conversations and have more difficulty recalling the details of books you have read or movies you have watched
  • You feel increasingly unsure when making decisions, planning the steps to complete a task or understanding how to follow instructions
  • You start to have trouble navigating your way around familiar areas or within familiar environments
  • You become more impulsive and show signs of poor judgment and decision-making skills
  • Your family, friends and co-workers notice these changes as well

Patients with MCI may also experience:

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes of Mild Cognitive Impairment

There is no one cause of mild cognitive impairment and the path and progression of the disease may vary among different individuals. In some cases, MCI may be a precursor to various neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, dementia with Lewy Bodies, vascular dementia, and other forms of dementia.

However, in other cases MCI may remain stable, improve or even resolve. These different outcomes for MCI reflect different underlying pathologies that cause this condition.

Risk factors

  • Increasing age – greater than 65 years
  • Having a specific form of a gene, known as APOE-e4, can increase the risk for the more common late-onset type of Alzheimer’s disease, but having the gene doesn’t guarantee that you will get Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Other medical conditions and lifestyle factors have been linked to an increased risk of cognitive decline, including:
    • Diabetes
    • Smoking
    • High blood pressure
    • Elevated cholesterol
    • Depression
    • Lack of physical exercise
    • Infrequent or inconsistent participation in mentally or socially stimulating activities

Assessment & Management of MCI

There are currently no FDA-approved medications to delay or stop progression of MCI towards dementia. Our specialists provide baseline assessments of cognitive function, along with recommendations for the optimization of cognitive health.

It is important to know that there are lifestyle, diet and exercise practices, that may reduce risk for dementia and, in some cases, slow the progression of the disease.

Factors for how to slow cognitive decline include:

  • Exercise. Studies are showing that aerobic exercise improves memory, brain function and physical fitness)
  • Healthy dietary practices. A Mediterranean or MIND diet, rich in fruits, vegetables, olive oil, legumes, whole grains and fish offer many heart-healthy and brain-healthy benefits)
  • Heart healthy behaviors. Control of blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugars and smoking cessation offer additional benefits for brain health and cognitive vitality
  • Avoiding head injury. Wearing a seat belt, bicycle helmet and avoiding falls that result in head injury
  • Enhancing mental activities . Cognitive stimulation such as reading, writing, learning a new language and other novel activities help to enhance brain agility improving function
  • Socializing. People who engage in regular social events and practices have better and more sustained cognitive functioning with age than those individuals who are more socially isolated
Written and reviewed by:
We are a highly specialized team of medical professionals with extensive neurological and cranial disorder knowledge, expertise and writing experience.
Last updated: April 6, 2020