What is Mild Cognitive Impairment?


“I literally had my phone just a second ago…. Where could it have gone?” Most humans have this exact thought play out countless times with a various number of items throughout their lives. The act of forgetting is one thing all humans do, intentionally or unintentionally, and for the most part, it is a daily occurrence. People don’t often pay much attention to what they forget, because for the things they must remember, they try to put a special mental emphasis on it so that it won’t slip their minds. Still, there’s a section of the population, who no matter how much mental emphasis they place on remembering something, they just can’t. Depending on what exactly they cannot remember, those people may have mild cognitive impairment, MCI, and they may have to seek out professional help to assist them in handling the symptoms that impact their way of life (Mayo Clinic, 2020).  

Mild cognitive impairment, MCI, is classified as the “area between the expected cognitive decline of normal aging and a more serious decline of dementia” (2020). An important note is that people with MCI can stay in this intermediary zone and not progress to dementia (2020).  MCI is characterized by an abnormal increase in issues with memory, language, thinking or judgment and those with MCI are aware and conscious that they have some sort of decline (2020). There really are no other specific symptoms, other than a decline in the areas previously discussed. For individuals with MCI, there is a level of understandable anxiety that stems from this decline because when or if the decline will stop, can be uncertain  (2020).

The main difference between MCI and Alzheimers or other dementia-like disorders is that the decline does not progress to the point where the individual cannot carry out daily activities without additional help (Memory and Aging Center, 2022). People with MCI use written reminders and notes to help pick up the parts of their memory that are lacking (Memory and Aging Center, 2022). Additional help is seen as the need for home health aids or care providers to help someone function in their daily lives, which people with MCI do not need. 

While MCI is associated with aging and usually not extremely intrusive to functioning, it is necessary to seek the help from a medical professional when you or a loved one begin to exhibit some neurological decline. The reason being that there may be an underlying greater cause of MCI-like symptoms that can be more severe in nature if untreated. For example, some of these underlying causes are sleep apnea and a Vitamin B12 deficiency (Hamilton, 2022). For those who may be unfamiliar with sleep apnea, it is defined as the “repeated stop and start of breathing while sleeping” (Mayo Clinic, 2020). Sleep apnea can lead to a similar neurological decline in individuals with MCI.  Luckily, these causes when uncovered are easily treatable, with the use of Continuous positive airway pressure machines, CPAP, for sleep apnea or Vitamin B12 supplementation for the deficiency (Hamilton, 2022). However, another possible cause of MCI-like symptoms is Alzheimer’s disease. Alzherimer’s disease is classified as a “brain disease which causes a continuous decline in thinking, behavioral and social skills that affects a person’s ability to function independently” (Mayo Clinic, 2022). Around a third of the patients who are diagnosed with MCI, will be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease later on in life (Hamilton, 2022). One saving grace is that if caught early that someone’s MCI can be attributed to early stage Alzheimer’s disease, there are treatment plans that can try to delay the continued abnormal deterioration of that person’s memory and overall ability to be independent in caring for themselves (Hamilton 2022). 

The act of forgetting is something people of all ages do. The quality of one’s memory varies greatly from person to person, where not much attention is paid if one may have a slightly worse or better memory than another. Fortunately, many people with MCI can function and carry out their daily activities with a reliance on written reminders and notes, but it is important to see a medical professional if one believes they or their loved ones may have MCI. A couple of tests in a medical office will ensure that the MCI is not a symptom for a greater underlying cause. 

 

References

Clker-Free-Vector-Images. 2012. “Thinker Thinking Person – Free Vector Graphic on Pixabay.” Pixabay.com. April 11, 2012. https://pixabay.com/vectors/thinker-thinking-person-idea-28741/

“Mild Cognitive Impairment – Symptoms and Causes.” 2020. Mayo Clinic. 2020. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/mild-cognitive-impairment/symptoms-causes/syc-20354578

“Mild Cognitive Impairment.” 2022. Memory and Aging Center. 2022. https://memory.ucsf.edu/dementia/mild-cognitive-impairment

Hamilton, Jon. “This Form of Memory Loss Is Common — but Most Americans Don’t Know about It.” 2022. NPR.org. March 18, 2022. https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2022/03/18/1087042353/mild-cognitive-impairment-dementia-alzheimers-association-report

“Sleep Apnea – Symptoms and Causes.” 2020. Mayo Clinic. 2020. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/sleep-apnea/symptoms-causes/syc-20377631

“Alzheimer’s Disease – Symptoms and Causes.” 2022. Mayo Clinic. 2022. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/alzheimers-disease/symptoms-causes/syc-20350447

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