January 2022

Identifying and Delaying Mild Cognitive Impairment

The numbers alone can be scary: It’s estimated that 12% to 18% of people age 60 or older have mild cognitive impairment (MCI)—a form of memory problems or trouble thinking that causes a slight, but noticeable, decline in cognitive abilities.

Adults with MCI are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias than those without MCI. However, MCI does not always lead to these conditions. In some cases, it reverts to normal cognition or remains stable. And there are steps you can take that may make its progression less likely.

What are the symptoms?

People with one type of MCI, called amnestic, might have trouble with their memory, such as:

  • Losing things frequently, such as house or car keys

  • Taking longer to think of a word or name than other people of the same age

  • Forgetting to go to appointments or events

People with another type of MCI, nonamnestic, can have trouble with thinking skills, such as:

  • Planning or executing a complicated task that requires many steps

  • Making sound decisions

  • Judging how long something will take to do

If you or others around you notice that you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s a good idea to call your healthcare provider as soon as possible. Sometimes a medicine you’re taking can cause memory problems, and your provider can determine if that’s the case.

Aducanumab is the first medicine approved by the FDA to treat Alzheimer’s disease. For people with MCI or mild dementia, aducanumab is an option. But there are also things you can do without medicine to slow its progression.

How can you delay cognitive decline?

Unfortunately, there are some risk factors for MCI that you can’t do anything about. These include:

  • Getting older

  • Having a family history of Alzheimer’s or dementia

The good news? The following strategies may help slow cognitive decline, although more research is needed to confirm their effect:

  • Exercise regularly. Physical activity increases the flow of blood and oxygen in the brain, which could give a boost to brain cells. Exercise is also known to reduce the risk for stroke, high blood pressure, and symptoms of depression, all of which can contribute to cognitive health.

  • Socialize. Spend time with family and friends, join an interest group, or volunteer in your community. Strong social connections seem to lower the risk for Alzheimer’s disease and cognitive decline.

  • Eat a heart-healthy diet. Studies show that limiting your intake of sugar and saturated fat and eating lots of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can help keep your heart healthy, which in turn keeps your brain functioning well.

  • Stimulate your brain. Learning a new skill or hobby, playing mentally challenging games, or taking a class can help your brain stay engaged and sharp.

If you’re starting to forget or lose things more easily, don’t be afraid to speak with your healthcare provider. Together, you can identify the source of your memory troubles and discuss the best ways to move forward and preserve your cognitive function.


Online Medical Reviewer: Brian McDonough, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Ray Turley, BSN, RN
Date Last Reviewed: 12/1/2021
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