A noticeable decline in cognitive abilities characterizes mild cognitive impairment (MCI). While more significant than expected for a person's age, MCI symptoms aren’t yet severe enough to be diagnosed as dementia. Unfortunately, it often serves as a precursor to dementia.
Dr. Andrew Lerman and his team at Gables Neurology in Miami, Florida, specialize in treating MCI and many of the underlying neurological conditions that may increase your risk.
Read what Dr. Lerman says about MCI, its symptoms, potential causes, and treatments that can slow its progression.
Understanding mild cognitive impairment
As you age, it's common to experience subtle declines in your cognitive abilities, affecting your mental thinking, reasoning, remembering, and problem-solving processes.
However, cognitive decline noted with MCI is more significant than typical age-related changes and is often considered a transitional stage between “normal” cognitive decline and the onset of dementia.
Symptoms of MCI can vary but generally include:
- Increasing forgetfulness, difficulty recalling recent events or conversations, or misplacing items
- Difficulty with word finding or understanding complex sentences
- Problems following the plot of a movie or novel
- Attention and focus issues, making it harder to concentrate or multitask effectively
- Executive function deficits impacting problem-solving abilities, decision-making, or organizing
- Depression, anxiety, mood swings
- Difficulty navigating familiar environments, such as your commute home after work
Notably, many of these symptoms mimic dementia. However, while the symptoms are noticeable, MCI doesn’t cause the same degree of dysfunction as dementia. Depending on the underlying cause, MCI may resolve, remain stable for years, or progress to dementia.
What causes mild cognitive impairment?
Although research has shown structural changes in the brain that may relate to MCI and dementia, it’s unclear why some individuals develop MCI and others don’t.
However, we do know that certain factors increase your risk of developing MCI, including:
- Diabetes, which affects the way your brain processes glucose for energy
- History of stroke
- Lack of physical exercise, social interactions, or cognitive engagement
- Obstructive sleep apnea
Notably, concussion or traumatic brain injury (TBI) can also cause MCI that, depending on the level of injury, is often reversible with treatment. Chronic neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s also increase your risk of MCI and dementia.
How do you treat mild cognitive impairment?
While no cure exists for MCI, several strategies can help manage the condition and potentially slow its progression.
Here are some treatment options Dr. Lerman may consider:
Several medications (i.e., cholinesterase inhibitors) designed to slow Alzheimer’s progression have shown promise in managing MCI symptoms.
Dr. Lerman may prescribe one of these medications to help delay the onset of dementia. However, it’s essential to note that no medication can cure or fully reverse cognitive decline.
Much like physical therapy for your brain, engaging in cognitive exercises and training programs helps improve memory, attention, and other cognitive functions.
Dr. Lerman may recommend formal programs that include puzzle work, memory games, or computer-based exercises designed to stimulate your brain.
Adopting a healthy lifestyle is crucial for managing MCI. Regular physical exercise, a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and omega-3 fatty acids, maintaining a socially active life, and managing chronic conditions like diabetes and hypertension can all contribute to improved cognitive health.
Working with a speech-language pathologist or occupational therapist specializing in cognitive rehabilitation can provide valuable strategies and techniques to cope with memory and attention difficulties. They can assist in developing compensatory strategies, improving organization skills, and implementing memory aids.
Emotional support and counseling
MCI can be distressing for individuals and their loved ones. Seeking emotional support through counseling, support groups, or therapy can help manage anxiety, depression, and the emotional impact of cognitive changes.
As is often the case in medicine, early diagnosis and treatment for conditions like MCI offer the broadest chance of limiting its effects on your quality of life.
Don’t ignore your symptoms. Schedule an evaluation with Dr. Lerman today by calling the Gables Neurology office.