Mild Cognitive Impairment and Dementia

Vicky Pitner   -  

As we age, our thought processes can slow down, and we may become a bit forgetful, misplacing our keys occasionally or forgetting why we walked into a room. This forgetfulness can be easily resolved by retracing our steps or just taking a few minutes to recall where we left the keys or what we needed when we changed rooms. But memory lapses, memory loss, and losing things frequently are not part of healthy aging.

Some adults do have more memory or thinking problems than others. This might include forgetting important appointments, misplacing items, forgetting to take important medications, or having trouble finding familiar words or names of familiar people. These types of changes in the brain are symptoms of Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI). Movement difficulties and problems with the sense of smell have also been linked to MCI. MCI is defined by deficits in memory that do not significantly impact daily living.

Friends and family members will notice the memory lapses, and the person may be concerned as well, and this hopefully will prompt the person to see a doctor. It is important that if these symptoms are present, an accurate diagnosis is critical. These behaviors may be caused by a medical condition or medication side effects, and a medical cause for changes in memory can be ruled out.

So how does this relate to dementia?  MCI is not dementia. However, it is estimated that 12% to 18% of people 60 years or older living with MCI will develop dementia. Approximately 10%-20% of people 65 years or older with MCI will develop dementia over a one-year period. But since most don’t develop dementia, the symptoms of MCI may stay the same, and with compensatory strategies to remember important information by keeping a journal or making lists, people are still able to take care of themselves and do their normal daily activities.

The Alzheimer’s Association reports that about a third of people with MCI due to Alzheimer’s disease will develop Alzheimer’s dementia within five years. Lack of awareness, the stigma that is associated with a neurocognitive disorder, and the denial that families and individuals experience when changes in their brain occur are only some of the barriers to not seeking professional help early. There is no cure for any of the 400 types of dementia, but by staying socially and physically active and staying engaging in hobbies, a life of quality is possible. It is key that family members learn how to communicate with their family members to avoid arguments.

If the functioning level of MCI changes and causes a progressive decline in memory, reasoning, social skills, and emotional reactions, and these deficits are severe enough that it impacts daily functioning, it is considered to be a Major Neurocognitive Disorder or MND. The most common types of MND are Alzheimer’s disease, Vascular dementia, Lewy body dementia, and Frontotemporal dementia.

According to the Marist Institute for Public Opinion Poll, adults in the US fear Alzheimer’s disease more than cancer, stroke, and heart disease combined. Because of the stigma, a diagnosis comes late, and a missed opportunity to develop an effective treatment plan is lost. A large percentage of people living with dementia today are undiagnosed, and this can result in serious safety concerns. They continue to drive, make mistakes with their medications, and may not be eating or keeping up with activities of daily living such as hygiene and keeping a safe home. They are at risk of getting lost or becoming vulnerable to financial scams. Some are living alone, but many live with a family member who makes excuses for these behaviors and contributes to “old age.”

If you suspect that a friend or family member is experiencing memory loss, memory lapses, changes in personality, or is exhibiting poor judgment, an evaluation is recommended. Supporting your loved ones and friends, rather than “looking the other way,” can make a difference in the quality of life and well-being that person will have.

If you would like more information on our Memory Ministry, Virtual Family and Friends Support Group or workshops we offer, please contact Vicky at