As we get older, we often face some level of cognitive decline. Doctors and other medical professionals will reassure you that this is completely normal due to the loss of brain matter that occurs because of ageing. However, if your cognition becomes noticeably or increasingly impaired, though not bad enough to be considered Dementia, then you may sit in the limbo that is Mild Cognitive Impairment.
Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) can be frustrating for the sufferer and their family, however, it should not be severe enough to impact their capability to live normally and complete usual activities. Having MCI does not necessarily mean that you will go on to develop Dementia, though the risk is significantly higher for those who do have MCI. Many people who suffer from mild cognitive impairment will never experience any further decline and a few will even improve their symptoms.
What causes Mild Cognitive Impairment?
Like with many brain illnesses, the direct cause of Mild Cognitive Impairment is unknown and may well differ from person to person. There are often changes that occur in the brain, similar to what happens when a person develops Dementia; though to a lesser extent. These include:
- Lewy bodies – which are abnormal protein clumps that develop inside the brain and affect memory, thinking and language.
- Small strokes or reduced blood flow getting through the blood vessels in the brain.
- Abnormal clumps of plaques or tangles – similar to those characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease
- Enlargement of brain ventricles
- Reduced use of glucose (sugary energy source) in key brain regions
- Shrinkage of the Hippocampus
These physiological changes are often only detected after a person has been diagnosed with Mild Cognitive Impairment. However, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t things you can do to reduce your risk of these things happening. Improving your health and influencing other key factors can reduce your risk of developing Mild Cognitive Impairment. By doing the following, you’re able to significantly reduce your risk of being diagnosed with MCI:
- Don’t smoke (or quit if you do!)
- Maintain a healthy body weight
- Frequently participate in mentally or socially stimulating activities (a pub quiz — without the booze — is ideal for this!)
- Get enough exercise; 30 minutes of gentle exercise is an ideal place to start
- Eat well – having diabetes, high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol and being obese significantly increase your risk of suffering from Mild Cognitive Impairment
- Look after your mental health – take steps to make yourself feel happy, whether that be spending time with friends or family or enjoying a new hobby. It’s important to feel valued and purposeful in older age as depression can lead to numerous health implications, including MCI.
Symptoms of Mild Cognitive Impairment
- You tend to forget things more often than usual
- You struggle to find the correct words when forming a sentence
- You feel overwhelmed when making decisions or following instructions
- You miss important events, appointments and social engagements because of your memory
- Your judgement may not be as good as it was and you might become more impulsive
- You have trouble finding your way around familiar environments
- Your family or friends start to notice any of these changes
If you’re suffering from any of these symptoms, visit your GP as soon as possible. They will be able to diagnose you from just a few short tests and a quick examination. Find out more about what to expect when being diagnosed.
Treatment for Mild Cognitive Impairment
Although there are no medications specifically approved to treat Mild Cognitive Impairment, some Alzheimer’s drugs (cholinesterase inhibitors) are currently being used to reduce symptoms of memory loss. However, these medications are not recommended for routine treatment for MCI.
Making changes to your lifestyle is often the best way to treat Mild Cognitive Impairment. Below is a list of things recommended by doctors to reduce and improve the symptoms of MCI:
- Eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables but low in fat
- Get regular physical exercise
- Take care of your heart health – eating well, exercising and getting more omega-3 fatty acids is great for your heart and may also help protect your cognitive health
- Puzzles and memory training
- Be social – interacting with other people is great for our mental health as well as being good for our brains, meeting new people or having interesting conversations keep our brains active and healthy.
- Stimulate your brain – there are more things you can do than staying social that work wonders for your brain. Reading fascinating articles or even watching documentaries that get you thinking are great for maintaining brain health.