Mild cognitive impairment is a slight but noticeable change in thinking and memory skills. People with mild cognitive impairment may lose things often, have difficulty recalling names or words, miss appointments, and have a harder time finding familiar places and keeping track of important dates. These changes are large enough to be noticed by the individuals experiencing them or to other people, but aren't severe enough to interfere with daily life or independent function.
People with mild cognitive impairment don't have dementia. Some eventually go on to develop Alzheimer's or other type of dementia. Others don't.
There are several types of mild cognitive impairment. They are based on the thinking skills affected:
Amnestic mild cognitive impairment mainly affects memory. A person with this type may forget things he or she previously recalled easily, such as people's names, conversations, or recent events.
Nonamnestic mild cognitive impairment affects thinking skills other than memory. A person with this type may have trouble making decisions, sequencing the steps needed to complete a task, or have trouble with visual perception.
So far there are no specific tests or procedures to conclusively diagnose a person with mild cognitive impairment. Diagnosis usually includes these elements:
- a complete medical history, in which a doctor asks questions about symptoms, previous illnesses and medical conditions, family history of memory problems or dementia.
- an assessment of function and daily activities, looking for changes from a person's previous function
- information from family members or friends about how function may have changed
- tests to evaluate memory, planning, judgment, and other thinking skills
- tests to check nerve function, reflexes, movement, coordination, and balance
- an evaluation for depression
- blood tests
- imaging tests to check the brain's structure
Coping strategies are the best way to deal with mild cognitive impairment, since no medications have been approved to treat it. Coping strategies may keep thinking skills from fading further:
- Exercise is good for your heart and blood vessels, including those that nourish your brain. Better blood flow to the brain may keep mild cognitive impairment from getting worse.
- Work to control blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, and other cardiovascular risk factors. Like exercise, these improve blood flow to the brain.
- Do things that engage your brain, like taking a class, learning a new language, volunteering, or taking part in social activities. These may help protect brain function.
As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date of last review or update on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.