Alzheimer's and Mild Cognitive Impairment: What's the Connection?

Last updated: September 2022

Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is when someone experiences problems with memory, language, thinking, or planning. These symptoms are greater than the changes experienced with aging but may not impact daily life.1-3

What are the symptoms of MCI?

Doctors describe MCI in 2 different ways: amnestic and non-amnestic. Amnestic is more common and is where you mainly experience memory issues. Non-amnestic is when you experience other issues, such as problems with language or changes in your vision.1,4

Symptoms of MCI are different depending on what kind of MCI you have. They may include:1,5

  • Often losing things
  • Forgetting appointments or events
  • Having trouble coming up with words sometimes
  • Trouble finishing tasks

How is MCI diagnosed?

To diagnose MCI, doctors will review your medical history and carry out some tests. One of these is a cognitive assessment. This is a test that can measure changes in your memory, reasoning, problem-solving, and planning.1

The relationship between MCI and Alzheimer's

People with MCI may have a higher risk of developing dementia. Studies estimate that 10 percent to 15 percent of people with MCI go on to develop dementia every year. Data also shows that about half of people aged 65 and older with MCI have MCI due to Alzheimer's disease.1,6

MCI is often an early sign of Alzheimer's. One study looked at people with Alzheimer's disease. It found that 99 percent of people with Alzheimer's over the age of 65 had cognitive impairment as one of their first symptoms. By comparison, 80 percent of people with Alzheimer's under the age of 65 had cognitive impairment as an early symptom.7

It is important to be aware of the symptoms of MCI and to speak to your doctor if you have any of those symptoms. A survey found that fewer than 1 in 5 Americans knew about signs of MCI. The same survey found that half of Americans said a description of MCI sounded like normal aging.1

If you are diagnosed with MCI, tests can confirm whether you have Alzheimer's disease. This could include tests that detect Alzheimer's biomarkers.1,4

What else causes MCI?

Some health conditions and other factors are also known to cause MCI. MCI could:1,5

  1. Be a side effect of medicines you take
  2. Result from depression or sleep deprivation
  3. Be caused by strokes or brain injuries

For some people with MCI, there is no known cause. But the risk of developing MCI increases with age. A review looked at over 30 MCI studies and found that over 16 percent of adults over the age of 65 had MCI. This number increased with age. The review found that over 37 percent of adults over the age of 80 had MCI.8

Is there a cure for MCI?

If you have a reversible cause of MCI, such as depression or side effects from a medicine, then treating your depression or changing your medicine can improve or completely get rid of your symptoms.1

For MCI with no treatable cause, there are no approved medicines. There are, however, actions you can take to help stay healthy and deal with the changes. These actions include:5,9

  • Minimizing alcohol intake
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Exercising
  • Eating well

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