Defining Mild Cognitive Impairment

At the annual National Academy of Neuropsychology (NAN) conference in Vancouver this week, Mark Bondi from UCSD & VA San Diego provided a very informative update on defining and diagnosing mild cognitive impairment (MCI).

Why all the attention on MCI? Because MCI can be a portal to Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. The conversion rate from MCI to dementia is 10%-15% per year, which means someone diagnosed with MCI has a greater than 50% chance of declining into dementia within five years of the MCI diagnosis.

Catching MCI in the very early stages also allows for medical interventions that can be effective; the newer medications tend to be more useful in the “prodromal” or very early stage Alzheimer’s, rather than in later, more profound dementia.

The common definition of MCI is:

1. Memory complaint/impairment, corroborated by testing
2. Normal cognitive functioning in other areas
3. No impact on general daily activities (dressing, basic food preparation, reading, etc)
4. Mild or slight impact on more complex activities (personal finances, managing multiple medications, etc)

Baseline cognitive testing in your doctor’s office or other health care setting is a useful way to keep an eye on memory loss and other cognitive problems that could indicate MCI. Being able to retest on memory and cognitive performance every couple of years will allow seniors and physicians to compare the most recent results with the initial baseline test to flag any potential cognitive issues for follow-up.

There are also some paper-based tests for home use that can act as a “first pass” screen for memory impairment. Readers can download two of these tests here.