You may have it but not know it. If you have it, it sometimes leads to dementia or Alzheimer’s, but not always. There is no definitive test for it, yet doctors diagnose millions of cases each every year.
There is no FDA-approved medication for it, nor is there any known cure. If this sounds like a riddle, in a way it is. This is your world if you’ve been diagnosed with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI).
A diagnosis of MCI can leave you understandably confused and concerned. How bad will things get and what does the future hold?
MCI doesn’t always mean dementia or Alzheimer’s, but it is certainly should be a serious wake-up call.
Mild Cognitive Impairment Defined
MCI is an intermediate stage between “normal” age-related mental decline and the diagnosis of dementia. Somewhere between 5-20% of seniors are believed to have it.
Signs include forgetting things more than usual, losing your train of thought more frequently, and feeling increasingly overwhelmed making decisions. But what is considered normal is subjective and differs for each person.
There is no definitive test for MCI, so a diagnosis largely relies on the “honor system”, i.e., the patient’s observations about their own situation. Obviously, this is not objective and some people will minimize their complaints.
If You Are Diagnosed, Keep Calm and Carry On
If you receive a diagnosis of MCI, it’s important to “keep calm and carry on”, as the saying goes. Try not to be alarmed and carry on with your life as usual. Unless your doctor recommends it, there’s no reason to give up your usual activities or stop driving.
There is good news. Some people with MCI get better and some stay the same. Only about 15% progress to dementia or Alzheimer’s each year. If you aren’t clear about the difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s read Clearing Up Confusion About Serious Memory Loss.
Until recently, most doctors told patients that they could expect to develop dementia within five to ten years. This kind of “fortune telling” makes me mad and it turned out not to be true! After analyzing 41 studies, researchers found that less than half of individuals with MCI progressed to dementia over the course of ten years.
You need to rule out underlying health conditions that could be causing your cognitive issues. Some can be fairly easily addressed, while others are more serious. Be sure to discuss this with your doctor. He should order the appropriate tests to rule any of the following causes of MCI:
- Prescription medications
- B12 deficiency
- Head injury
- Sleep apnea
- Underactive thyroid
- High blood pressure
- Brain tumor
Don’t skip over “medications” lightly. Many medications can lead to a false-positive diagnosis for dementia or Alzheimer’s. The risk increases if you are on more than one medication due to interactions.
If you are taking any prescription medications, be sure to discuss this with your doctor. Arm yourself with the information in Protect Your Brain from the Perils of Polypharmacy.
A Wakeup Call
Hopefully, any serious underlying condition will be ruled out. If that is the case, consider your MCI a serious wake-up call.
Now you have an excellent opportunity to clean up your lifestyle and make any needed changes. This will give you the best possible chance to be someone whose MCI gets better, not worse.
Here are some known MCI lifestyle risk factors that are under your control:
- Lack of physical exercise
- Lack of mental stimulation
- Lack of social interaction
- A diet low in fruits and vegetables
- Lack of omega-3 fatty acids
I urge you to take these lifestyle recommendations seriously since there is no known medical cure for MCI.
No Drugs, So Try Nutritional Supplements
In addition to upgrading your lifestyle habits, there are supplements that can help. (Remember, there is no FDA-approved medication for MCI.)
Some of the most promising studies on vitamins for preventing cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease shown that:
- Vitamin D: A low vitamin D level is associated with Alzheimer’s and a higher intake of vitamin D is associated with a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
- Vitamin B complex: Folic acid, B6, and B12 when taken together has been shown to stop the progression of Alzheimer’s.
- Vitamin B12: A low vitamin B12 level is a risk factor for cognitive impairment. Higher concentrations of B12 in the body are associated with a lower risk of Alzheimer’s.
- Vitamin C: Vitamin C treatments successfully dissolved amyloid plaques in the brains of mice — the same type of protein plaques that affect people with Alzheimer’s.
- Vitamin E: Higher plasma levels of vitamin E in older adults correlated with a reduced Alzheimer’s risk. Vitamins C and E are found to work synergystically.
Numerous studies have found that increasing antioxidant intake can lower the transition from MCI to dementia by halting free radical damage to the brain.
One study found a combination of green tea plus l-theanine to be especially helpful for improving memory and attention by increasing brain neurotransmitter levels and stopping free radical damage.
Don’t count on a magic bullet or your doctor to make this go away. It’s really all up to you.
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