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What is Mild Cognitive Impairment?

by Carole Larkin, Alzheimer's & Dementia Expert
January 23, 2015

Question: What is mild cognitive impairment?

Answer: Mild cognitive impairment is one of the terms used for a condition that shows impairment of brain function but that the impairment of brain function is not severe enough to majorly impact the person’s life. In other words, the person can “work around” the lack of function and still have a normal life. For example: extensive use of a variety of reminders to be on time for appointments and/or events, or placing labels on the outsides of cabinets or drawers describing what is contained in the cabinet or drawer to save time looking for items. It is NOT the run of the mill sticky notes to oneself. It occurs more often than that and for more than one or two issues a day.

We all slow down cognitively as we get older. Believe it or not, we’re at our best in our 20’s!  That is a normal part of aging. If you haven’t noticed, the general pace of life has quickened considerably and we are subjected to stress in our lives from more and more sources. All of that takes its toll on our brain daily. Not to mention that the mental illness called depression hits more people than ever, for more reasons than ever. Are you aware that Depression is still highly under diagnosed?
 Also, other things can cause you to be “off your game” cognitively, such as unrecognized vitamin B-12 deficiency or thyroid deficiency (yes, even in men!).  That’s why I suggest that if you are worried about “not being on your game”, ask your family doctor for a recommendation for a consultation with a neurologist or even a neuropsychologist, to have yourself tested. The truth should arise from those consults, and it could turn out that you are just fine, or at worst fixable, by some drug or procedure.

It’s important to be aware that even if diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment, you absolutely do NOT automatically continue on to the dreaded Alzheimer’s disease. Research shows that so far somewhere around a quarter of the people who are diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment go on to develop Alzheimer’s disease.  That means around three quarters don’t develop Alzheimer’s disease. At least, that’s what research is telling us at the moment. Research on mild cognitive impairment is still in its very early stages. Probably the most extensive research on the condition has happened within the last 5 years. That is truly new findings. As research continues to be carried out the condition will come into a clearer view.  Maybe the statistics on mild cognitive impairment turning into Alzheimer’s disease will change. We will just have to wait and see.

The important take away from this is: People can and do still function, and live relatively “normal” lives with mild cognitive impairment. Life becomes more “effortful”, in my terminology. People have to use more aids or work arounds to get things done, but for the most part, they can get done what they need to, to live a happy, fulfilling life.

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Carole Larkin MA, CMC, CAEd, QDCS, EICS is a geriatric care manager who specializes in helping families with Alzheimer’s and related dementias issues. She also trains caregivers in home care companies, assisted livings, memory care communities, and nursing homes in dementia specific techniques for best care of dementia sufferers. Her company, ThirdAge Services LLC, is located in Dallas, TX.

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