Forgetfulness / Mild Cognitive Impairment
Almost everybody complains about their memory at some time. For example, you have probably experienced difficulty remembering the name of a person or place even though you know everything else about that person or place. Usually, the name comes back to you spontaneously. Another common problem is beginning to do something or go somewhere and then forgetting what you wanted to do or where you wanted to go. Many times the latter complaint is due to impaired concentration. This problem can be caused by anxiety, poor mood (especially depression), stress, or having too much on your mind.
Other types of memory symptoms may be more significant. Examples include having to repeat things to someone over and over again because they do not remember what you told them, or a person saying the same thing over and over again because they do not remember having just said it. Needing to write things down so you do not forget may or may not be significant, but forgetting events that have already taken place is likely to be more serious.
Objective testing can usually determine whether or not memory complaints are significant. Much of the time, no brain condition is found. But other times the testing shows a real loss of memory even though the person is still functioning normally. This condition, halfway between normal and dementia, is called mild cognitive impairment.
How common is mild cognitive impairment?
Mild cognitive impairment is somewhat common. Approximately 10 percent of people in their 70s and two percent of people in their 80s have mild cognitive impairment.
Who gets mild cognitive impairment?
The cause of mild cognitive impairment is not known. Some people may start to have symptoms due to brain changes from early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, while others may have symptoms that never become worse. Mild cognitive impairment is more common in older adults and may be more common in women.
How is mild cognitive impairment diagnosed?
There is no test for mild cognitive impairment. Doctors may use a combination of medical history, cognitive assessments, and a neurological examination to determine if symptoms shown are due to mild cognitive impairment.
Mild cognitive impairment can affect memory, thinking ability, or both. When the memory is most affected, doctor’s refer to it as amnestic mild cognitive impairment. When thinking ability—such as decision making or performing complex mental tasks—is affected, doctor’s refer to it nonamnestic mild cognitive impairment.
Please seek the help of a licensed medical professional if you are concerned about your health, and dial 9-1-1 if you are experiencing an emergency.
Those with mild cognitive impairment should try to stay as healthy as possible. Being physically and mentally active may help keep the condition from getting worse.
There is some evidence that donepezil (Aricept®) may reduce the risk of progressing to dementia for about a year. Other experimental medications for mild cognitive impairment are under investigation.
- Date of last review: November 25, 2019
- Author: Anna Burke, MD