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Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI)

What is Mild Cognitive Impairment?
If you have been told that you have Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) this means that your mental abilities (cognition) are not as good as they used to be. This usually refers to problems affecting memory, but could involve a change in problem solving, thinking, attention, concentration, language or visual ability.

MCI is more than just normal forgetting and means a difficulty that is greater than would be expected for normal ageing. MCI is not the same as dementia. People with MCI can be at risk of developing dementia in the future, but many do not develop more problems and a small number can recover.

What difficulties can be expected?
The difficulties that those with MCI experience can vary and depend on what part of your cognition is affected. The cognitive assessment that you completed will have helped highlight the strengths and weaknesses in your ability. Difficulties seen in MCI can include a change in:

  • Memory – Misplacing items, forgetting plans and recent events, difficulty retaining information.
  • Language – Word finding difficulties, less fluent in conversations.
  • Problem Solving – Difficulty planning and carrying out daily tasks, adapting to change.
  • Visual – More difficulty navigating and recalling directions. Judging distance.

Will my difficulties get any better?
For a few people with MCI, difficulties can get better if identified problems are due to physical health problems or anxiety/stress or low mood, and there is a subsequent improvement in well-being. But for the majority of people with MCI it is likely that problems will not get any better. However, problems might not get any worse either. Some people with MCI can later experience a progression of their problems which might subsequently lead to a diagnosis of dementia. Of those with MCI, only 10-15% per year develop dementia. There is no prediction of who will develop a dementia in the future.

Can the ‘memory medications’ be used in MCI?
A number of studies completed have shown that using memory drugs for the treatment of MCI do not improve memory and will not prevent difficulties from getting worse. The side effects are more pronounced when used in MCI and include higher rates of nausea, diarrhoea and leg cramps. Therefore the memory drugs are not used in MCI.

MCI and driving
If driving is not affected then the DVLA (Driving and Vehicle Licensing Authority) does not need to be notified. However, for some people with MCI the cognitive difficulties being experienced can impact on driving ability. This might come to light through specific difficulties being identified from the cognitive assessment such as visual or problem solving difficulties, or concerns being raised by family and friends about a possible change in driving ability.
In these instances the DVLA should be notified to allow enquiries to take place.
What are the signs that my problems are getting worse?

  • Cognitive problems getting significantly worse and occurring more often. It can also be helpful to check whether family or close friends have also noticed any changes.
  • Noticing difficulties occurring in other areas of ability such as attention/ concentration, problem solving, language or visual ability.
  • Noticing a change in your ability in everyday life to do tasks such as cooking, shopping, household chores.
  • It is also worth considering how you have generally been feeling lately as increased stress, low mood or any experience of loss can result in a temporary worsening of memory.

How can someone maximise their mental health and reduce risk of developing dementia?
Research has suggested that lifestyle can affect a person’s risk of developing dementia. There are steps that can be taken to reduce risk:

  • Take regular exercise such as walking or swimming.
  • Maintain the range of interests and activities that you previously enjoyed such as socialising with friends.
  • “Keep the mind active” – doing crossword puzzles and word searches – as long as these are activities that you enjoy.
  • Look after your health - stop smoking, refrain from exceeding the recommended amounts of alcohol, and maintain a healthy diet.

In the future should you feel that your memory/cognitive difficulties are getting worse,
please discuss this with your GP who may re-refer you back to a memory service.