Summary: Mild cognitive impairment is fairly common. It can be upsetting if you notice symptoms in yourself or a loved one. Here are some ways that caregivers can help – and some possible preventive steps.

Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) affects around fifteen to twenty percent of adults age 65 and over, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

People with mild cognitive impairment are more likely to develop dementia (for example, Alzheimer’s disease) – but it doesn’t always lead to dementia.

What are the first signs of mild cognitive impairment?

How do you know you might be starting to have mild cognitive impairment? According to the National Institute on Aging, you and your loved ones may notice the changes in your memory or thinking abilities. For example, you may forget appointments, or you start losing things more often. You should still be able to participate in daily activities with MCI although you might need a caregiver some of the time.

If you have mild cognitive impairment, you may be more likely to develop dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. However, not everyone with MCI will see symptoms get worse over time. Some people even see the condition improve.

Causes of mild cognitive impairment

There is no definite cause of mild cognitive impairment, reports the Mayo Clinic. Some people with mild cognitive impairment have changes to the brain like those seen with Alzheimer’s patients. The changes are not as big, so symptoms are not as severe. However, the changes can get worse over time, leading to Alzheimer’s or other types of dementia.

People are more likely to develop mild cognitive impairment if they have others in their family with the condition, says the Mayo Clinic. Other risk factors include a family history of dementia or Alzheimer’s or advancing age.

Symptoms of mild cognitive impairment

You might have mild cognitive impairment if any of the following happens to you, according to the Mayo Clinic:

  • Forgetting important events or dates
  • Forgetting other things more often
  • Losing your train of thought during conversations
  • Having more trouble making decisions
  • Losing your way around familiar places

Some people with MCI might also experience depression, irritability, or anxiety because of the cognitive changes, notes the Mayo Clinic. This can make it more difficult for caregivers who must address these symptoms as well as the memory changes.

If you or someone close to you notices these changes, the National Library of Medicine suggests visiting your doctor.

Diagnosing mild cognitive impairment

When you see your doctor with symptoms of mild cognitive impairment, she will probably give you a series of different tests to diagnose it, reports the National Institute on Aging. Your doctor will also want to rule out other medical issues that could be causing your symptoms. The diagnostic process might include the following steps, reports the Alzheimer’s Association:

  • Blood tests to rule out physical problems that could cause memory loss
  • Neurological exam to look for conditions like Parkinson’s, tumors or previous strokes
  • Mental testing that takes about 10 minutes and identifies specific cognitive difficulties
  • Brain scans to see if changes have occurred in the brain to cause the symptoms

These tests can help identify MCI and rule out more serious conditions like dementia. From the diagnosis, you and your doctor can work together to create a treatment plan for you.

Can you prevent mild cognitive impairment?

Aggressive treatment of high blood pressure may help prevent mild cognitive impairment, the Alzheimer’s Association reported. Over 9,000 people were involved in the “SPRINT-MIND” study, which started in 2010, and the results were published in 2018.

Treatment for mild cognitive impairment

There is no set treatment for mild cognitive impairment, the Alzheimer’s Association reports. The FDA has not approved any medications for the condition. Medicines used to treat Alzheimer’s don’t always help the symptoms of MCI. If there is another medical condition causing the MCI, treating that condition might also help the memory problems.

According to the National Institute on Aging, here are some things that may help manage the symptoms of MCI:

  • Exercise daily to get more blood to the brain so it can function better.
  • Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables and limit foods that are high in fat.
  • Engage in activities like games, computer work, and reading.
  • Spend time with family and friends to improve your quality of life overall.

What can caregivers do to help with mild cognitive impairment?

 A caregiver of someone with mild cognitive impairment may be able to help that person manage daily life better. The Alzheimer’s Association has some tips for you as a caregiver, such as:

  • Remind them of events or help them write things down, so they don’t forget.
  • Learn about MCI so you can help your loved one cope.
  • Take her to doctor’s appointments and talk to medical personnel about what you can do.
  • Look around his home and make it as safe as you can. Do you need to remove car keys or lock up sharp objects?

Make sure you care for yourself as well, suggests the Alzheimer’s Association. Take time for activities you enjoy. Get to know other caregivers so you can support each other.

Medicare health plans may offer coverage for care for those with mild cognitive impairment. To find the right plan for you or your loved one, click on our plan finder tool to compare plans in your area.