Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI)

Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) describes patients with memory problems that are more severe than those caused by normal aging. However, these impairments are mild and not as severe as those experienced in patients with dementia. Patients with MCI are generally able to live their daily lives and participate in their usual activities without any trouble.

Patients with MCI are at an increased risk of developing dementia later in life.


Symptoms of mild cognitive impairment are often subtle and patients may not even notice them because they often develop coping methods, such as written reminders. Symptoms of MCI may include:

  • Increasing forgetfulness
  • Forgetting important appointments or events
  • Losing trains of thought
  • Losing the thread of conversation, books and movies
  • Feeling overwhelmed making decisions or planning
  • Difficulty navigating familiar environments
  • Increased impulsiveness
  • Depression
  • Irritability and aggression
  • Anxiety
  • Apathy

Causes and Risk Factors

There is no one cause of mild cognitive impairment. MCI is often associated with brain changes that are similar to those associated with Alzheimer's disease or dementia with Lewy bodies. Brain changes associated with MCI are milder than those of dementia. A buildup of plaque throughout the brain, shrinkage of the hippocampus, and enlargement of the brain's fluid-filled sacks (ventricles) have all been associated with MCI.

As a patient ages, their risk increases. Other risk factors include:


There is no specific test that can diagnose mild cognitive impairment. A diagnosis is based on the patient's physical exam and medical history, as well as certain diagnostic tests.

Diagnosis often involves a variety of tools in order to rule out other possible disorders and to better understand the patient's condition. The following diagnostic tests may be used:


There is no specific treatment for mild cognitive impairment.

Most treatments focus on managing the symptoms of the condition. If the patient has high cholesterol or high blood pressure, these will be addressed through lifestyle changes and medication.

Some physicians may prescribe Alzheimer's medications, known as cholinesterase inhibitors, to treat the symptoms of mild cognitive impairment. However, researchers are still working to determine the long term effectiveness of these medications.

Patients with mild cognitive impairment are encouraged to engage in mentally and socially stimulating situations as this may help sustain brain function. Exercise is also beneficial, as it keeps the blood vessels of the body healthy, including those that supply the brain.