Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) – Memory Loss Without Dementia
Many patients over the age of 65 complain of memory loss and are concerned they have dementia. Others attribute their memory loss to aging. While there is a very mild degree of memory loss associated with aging, it is usually not significant. For example, forgetting where you put your keys or where you parked your car. These are not serious memory problems. A more problematic degree of memory loss, while not dementia, is called Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI). MCI is characterized by an increase level of forgetfulness. There are two primary types of MCI: (1) Amnestic MCI (2) Non-amnestic MCI. In patients affected with amnestic MCI, they have significant memory and recall difficulty. There is a stronger association with this type of MCI with Alzheimer’s disease. Non-amnestic MCI usually does not progress to Alzheimer’s disease but may go on to other types of dementia. The good news is that about fifty percent of all patient’s with MCI never progress to Alzheimer’s or any other dementia. MCI can also spontaneously improve and clear.
The American Academy of Neurology published criteria for the diagnosis of MCI: (1) Individuals reporting their awareness of memory difficulty – preferably confirmed by a spouse or child; (2) Measurable memory loss greater than would be expected for age; (3) Normal general thinking and reasoning skills; (4) Ability to perform routine daily activities. Frequently patients with MCI have specific areas in which they are having memory trouble whereas patients affected with dementia have more global memory difficulties. Also quite frequently, patients with dementia are unaware of having any memory problem at all.
Risk factors for MCI and mild memory loss include such things as high blood pressure, lower educational levels, lack of physical and mental activities and vascular disease. Vascular dementia is seen in patients that have had multiple small strokes. Abnormally low blood pressure, particularly in patients with significant brain vascular disease (hardening of the arteries) can be a cause of reversible memory loss. Depression can cause a condition of memory loss known as pseudo-dementia syndrome of depression. Fortunately this is treatable and the “memory loss” is reversible in this condition.
In those patients affected with MCI, they can go on to develop dementia, usually Alzheimer’s disease. The true incidence is difficult to measure and ranges between 27-65% depending on which study one reads. Some studies have shown that the use of memory loss medications such as donzepil (Aricept®) can help improve memory function and potentially slow the progression of memory loss. It should be noted that in patients over the age of 70, approximately 12% will have some degree of memory difficulty. This is highly variable from patient to patient.
In summary, if you have a sense that you have memory difficulty, do not attribute it to normal aging. Consider seeing a neurologist trained in evaluating memory disorders and Alzheimer’s disease. You have everything to gain by improving your quality of life.