What is Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI)?

Posted on 19 November 2014 in Clinical Trials / Healthcare / Research

Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is a term used to describe a condition involving problems with cognitive functions such as memory, attention, language and visuo-spatial skills. People with MCI often have difficulties with day-to-day memory, but the problems are not severe enough to interfere with daily life or independent function.

Because the changes caused by MCI are not severe enough to affect daily life, a person with MCI does not meet diagnostic guidelines for dementia. However, those with MCI have a highly increased risk of eventually developing Alzheimer's or another type of dementia, estimated to be about three to five times the risk of someone without MCI.

Therefore detecting MCI is an effective way of identifying early signs of cognitive impairment, leading to the timely detection of dementia.

Amnestic Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) is a condition characterised predominantly, but not exclusively, by problems with episodic memory. These memory complaints are measurable with cognitive tests and noticeable by the relatives and friends of the patient. Decline in performance on the cognitive tests is greater than the gradual decline that is typically experienced as part of normal ageing. In particular, impairments in episodic memory can be the first warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease and among patients with mild cognitive impairment, tests of episodic memory can be the best predictors of subsequent conversion to Alzheimer’s disease.


What can be done to treat MCI?

There is currently no drug treatment for MCI approved by the FDA or NICE. However, the following coping strategies may be helpful for those with MCI. Some studies suggest that these strategies can help slow the decline in thinking skills and reduce the risk of dementia.

  • Exercise regularly to benefit your heart and blood vessels, including those that nourish your brain.
  • Control cardiovascular risk factors to protect your heart and blood vessels, including those that support brain function.
  • Participate in mentally stimulating and engaging activities, which may help sustain brain function.

It is recommend that a person diagnosed with MCI be re-evaluated every six months to determine if symptoms are improving, staying the same, or growing worse.


The benefit of diagnosing MCI

A lot of research has focused on identifying people with MCI who will go on to develop dementia. This is important because it would mean that people could be offered a range of support at an early stage in the illness. 

The main benefit of diagnosing MCI is that it helps to identify people who are at increased risk of developing dementia. GPs can refer someone with MCI to a memory clinic for more detailed assessments over time. Many people with MCI will develop dementia, so this approach leads to people with the disease getting an earlier diagnosis. This means that people can have earlier access to treatments as well as practical information, advice and support.

Early diagnosis also allows people to plan ahead while they are still able to do so and – if needed – be encouraged to adopt a healthier lifestyle.


How to detect Mild cognitive impairment?

Cantab Mobile is a touchscreen assessment that is highly sensitive to the cognitive decline seen in amnestic mild cognitive impairment.

In a recent study at the University of Tasmania, patients with amnestic MCI showed poorer performance on the Cantab Mobile test than either controls or non-amnestic MCI patients at baseline. When reassessed 10 months later, patients with amnestic MCI had worsened by an average of four errors at the six-pattern stage. In contrast, the PAL scores of patients with non-amnestic MCI, who are at lower risk for Alzheimer's disease, changed by less than one error (Saunders & Summers, 2011).

Using Cantab Mobile to detect the earliest signs of clinically relevant memory impairment also allows people to plan ahead while they are still able to do so and access support and advice to reduce their decline in memory, keeping them healthy and independent for longer and reducing the burden on healthcare services.

Contact us for more information on Cantab Mobile.


Researching Mild Cognitive Impairment

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